To what extent should freedom of speech be a guaranteed right?

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Basic rights, basic civil, human and political rights are the cornerstone of every democracy, from America to India, Singapore to South Africa, as set out in their various constitutions and in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For examples, the right to live, the right to vote, the right to a life free from fear and the right to freedom of speech, have all been clearly set out as intrinsic rights which are inalienable and should be duly accorded to every human being. However, the right to freedom of speech has long been the subject of much controversy as to the extent to which this particular right should be guaranteed and to whom.

Freedom of speech, like all other rights, has intrinsic value. It, in particular, allows an individual the liberty to express his thoughts without fear of reproach, regardless of what he says. This has important implications for a country in the social and political arenas for it is only when citizens are able to freely express support for or speak up against certain ideas, be they political policies or even social norms, that progress can be achieved. For example, in a totalitarian or dictatorial state, it is only when people are allowed to speak freely and come up with their own political parties, that there can ever be political reform and progress within a country. This is something that is widely accepted to be true and this can be seen in the global community’s support of Burma ‘s possible release of opposition leader Aung Sung Su Kyi as a move steeped in foresight and with progress in mind.

Similarly, in the social sphere, it is highly beneficial to accord people their right to free speech because it not only breeds a more thinking, more creative societybu it also reduces dissatisfaction and may bring about social reform. If people are not allowed to speak their minds and can only meekly accept whatever comes their way, this is not only detrimental in terms of the type of society being bred, it also gives cause for worry in that citizens may feel deprived of their rights or suppressed, and this could breed latent dissatisfaction in the country. This latent dissatisfaction may result in violence and anger, disrupting stability within a nation. Conversely, if citizens are accorded the right to freedom of speech, this latent dissatisfaction would then have a constructive outlet and backlash would be more peaceful and less antagonistic in nature. This could lead to peaceful social reform, in contrast to the extreme measures that people would otherwise have to undertake in order to successfully put their point across. For example, Martin Luther King, a champion of equal rights in America was allowed to speak up for the rights of the minority, and this was pivotal in bringing about the paradigm shift away from white supremacy to that of equal rights for all. Hence we see that free speech can indeed improve society and enrich people.

However, despite its obvious benefits, we cannot be myopic or overly optimistic by failing to recognize the propensity for such a right to be abused. As such, we see that rights are not absolute and they cease to be ‘rights’ as soon as the exercise of that right infringes on the rights of another. Hence, we cannot assess individual freedom in a vacuum and must put it into a real world context. Free speech, like any other freedom, has the potential for abuse and such abuse results in a clash of interests between societal good and individual liberty. An obvious illustration is extremism. Extremists, who hold views widely divergent from those of mainstream, conventional thinkers, are famous for inciting violence, resulting in social upheaval and hence disrupting law and order. This occurs because certain individuals choose specifically to prey on simmering feelings of resentment, which may exist beneath the surface. This could shake the fabric of society and cause great confusion and possibly violence. This happened in Britain . In 1989, a new political party quickly gained popularity in areas north of London such as Birmingham and Westhampton. Being strongly nationalist, they managed to bring to the surface racist sentiments which ultimately culminated in wide-spread racial violence, the worst witnessed in England in twenty years. Hence we see that the abuse of freedom of speech threatened the security of the country and this is something that cannot be condoned, much less thinly veiled by the argument of it being a ‘basic right’. In such instances, it is in the best interest of society to contain, to some extent, the right of the individual for the good of society.

Thus, it is evident that while the intrinsic value accorded to rights is not entirely imagined, it is sometimes over-hyped and exaggerated and therefore must be taken with a pinch of salt. We cannot then blindly protect the right to free speech without properly taking stock of the wider implications of the actions of the individual. So, while it is a great injustice to deny people of their basic right to freedom of speech, it is justifiable to choose to curtail the rights of some for the good of society, and to avoid the case of possibly bringing about a breakdown of societal cohesion and a disruption of law and order and peace.

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Gender is no longer a helpful concept. Do you agree?

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One of the most noticeable revolutions in this century is the Feminist movement. The first wave which began in 1854 was a fight for women’s rights to education and to voting by the Suffragettes. Conventional wisdom has it that the feminist movement is the rise of the female and the start of the road to equality of the sexes. However, on deeper analysis, it is actually the shift in attitudes of females that fueled this revolt. Sex is not the issue here. Rather, gender takes the limelight. Gender is the behavioural traits and attitudes of the sexes, not the biological characteristics of what defines us as male or female. This statement implies that attitudes of the sexes are absolutely not useful, nor is it beneficial. I do not agree with this totally. While gender may not be helpful in certain situations, it is definitely helpful in others.

The idea of gender not being helpful is exemplified in situations where women take on leadership roles and have responsibilities to fulfill. Traditionally, women are perceived to be reliant on their male counterparts and are expected to be subservient to them in all circumstances. If this is not the case, they will be deemed as defiant and are likely to be outcast. However, in the modern era women are not tied to their traditionally expected gender behaviour. Just look at the increase in the number of females having an active role in the political arena. In the recent issue of Forbes Magazine, Ms Wu Yi, the vice premier of China , is ranked as the most powerful woman in Asia . Ms Wu Yi has shown her credibility and abilities when she skillfully handled the SARS scare in China , outshining the previous male health minister. The latter tried to hide the burgeoning number of SARS victims under the proverbial carpet, much to the world’s disgust. Hence, the concept of women being less capable than men, and always playing a less important role than men so as to be seen as submissive, is not useful in the political arena as it prevents a level playing field for men and women.

Secondly, gender is not useful in defining roles for both male and female in the family unit. In the past, women were always stay-at-home mothers while men were the breadwinner, bringing home the bread and butter. Women played the role of mental support and care while men took on the role of financial support and discipline. Yet, now we witness a shift in roles – a growing proportion of fathers as homemakers and an exponential increase in the number of mothers who enter the workforce. The concept of gender is not helpful here because it imposes a restriction on men and women and on how they should carry themselves in order to fit the roles already defined for them, In fact, a ‘liquidification’ of roles allows fathers to establish a closer bond with their children and participate in their development in a more holistic manner.

However, gender can be a helpful concept when it benefits the individual. For a company that produces products, gender may be an essential concept. It gives the company some directions or some clues as to how they can better package or promote their products to cater to consumer’s demands. Take for example a beauty salon may wish to target primarily women since being image-conscious is a much acknowledged mentality of the female species. The cult of youth, especially emphasized by the media, is almost deep rooted in women due to their attitudes towards physical beauty and “perfection”. Beauty salons target women’s consumeristic nature and idealistic aims of reaching artificial “perfection” to help them yield profits. Of course there is now an increasing number of males who are image-conscious, but it is not a widespread phenomenon yet. Hence, how can anyone say that the concept of gender, which includes attitudes and behaviour, is not helpful at all?

To sum it up, gender can still be a helpful concept in situations where one’s aims can be achieved. In fact, it promotes awareness of the general behaviour of the sexes. However, the concept of gender is not as helpful as it used to be in the past as seen from the shift in the roles of male and female, and the increasing difference in the needs of the past and present societies. One thing we all know is that the helpfulness of this concept will diminish as time goes, and this is necessary for the progress of the world.

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Assess the view that the appreciation of the arts is only for the rich.

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The view examined here is one that states that only the rich are able to appreciate the arts. Is this true or false? It depends on our definition of ‘the arts’ Furthermore, who are we referring to when we speak of the rich? It is impossible to define the arts. Is a statue of Madonna covered with elephant dung considered part of the “arts”? Some could consider “Water lilies” by Monet a work of magnificent art, but others would consider it a mediocre painting, nothing more.

However, it is the general opinion that the arts are composed of certain key aspects: namely, music, dance, painting, sculpture, and other areas. But something must be said of the arts; whichever form it takes, art transcends boundaries: social boundaries. What I mean is that everybody is able to appreciate art, but in different forms. For example, a person from the middle-to-upper classes might view the musical “Miss Saigon” as a great work of art; however, someone of a lower socioeconomic class unacquainted with musicals might not be able to appreciate it, preferring to listen to folk songs which the middle and high class citizen may not be able to appreciate. Hence, I disagree with the above-mentioned view that only the rich can appreciate the arts.

Socially, people across all social classes are able to appreciate the arts simply because the arts appeal to different people in different forms. The asrt continues to sustain themselves because they satisfy the basic human need to express oneself – and in this expression, the arts appeal to the observer or force the observer to examine himself or the world around him. Furthermore, everybody views a work of art in a different light. Critics are divided about Rembrandt’s last self-portrait, “Self-portrait with two circles”. Does it display him in the weakness of his age, or does it show him seeing the truth of the world around him, stripped of its facade? Nobody can say for sure. Thus, it is this nature of art which leads to everybody being able to appreciate it: with the important qualification that they do so from different viewpoints, through different forms. Social class and wealth have no bearing on this.

When we speak of the “rich”, we are not merely speaking about people with wealth: we are speaking of an entire social class. Let us examine the rich: both in the economic and social sense, as to why it is untrue that only they are able to appreciate the arts. Economically speaking, it is conventional logic that the 18th century French aristocrat was able to take the time off his work and go into art galleries because he could afford to take leave from work, and could afford to pay the entrance fee into the gallery. On the other hand, the common peasant had to toil from morning to night, seven days a week, just to feed himself. Hence, he could hardly afford to appreciate the arts, in the monetary sense. However, the fault with this seemingly logical line of thought is that while the peasant could not afford to enjoy the same art forms of the noble, he could and did enjoy other art forms: folk songs, story telling, and the like. It would be biased to assume that the common peasant was culturally illiterate, simply because of his monetary status. As set out before,art can take any shape and form; lack of money need not be a barrier.

It is for this very reason that appreciation of the arts is not limited to the rich in the social sense. Going back to the above example, even if the peasant could afford to take a day off and go to the art gallery (which he probably wouldn’t, but for example’s sake), he would be rejected at the door simply because he was of a lower social class. His clothes, his manner, his accent, his very demeanor – these would all be out of sync with the social codes expected by the higher social class. Hence, he would be rejected because of the snobbish mentality of this form of art. There are two ways to look at this. Firstly, as mentioned above, he did not have to solely seek out this avenue of art – there were other forms of art available to him. In this way, appreciation of the arts was not beyond him. But secondly, I disagree with the snob rule that only a particular class may enjoy a particular Art form. It does not always hold true. Some particular instances of art truly transcend boundaries. For example, Vincent Van Gogh has long been regarded as one of the paragons of art. Mixing shades and hue, and the brilliance of colour, a Van Gogh painting can be worth millions of dollars on the art market – definitely a “high class” form of Art. Yet his paintings were never intended for the rich. One of his paintings, “The Potato Eaters”, shows a group of peasants sitting round a table, eating the potatoes their labour has borne. It is definitely an unglamorous painting, its hues being dark and subdued and its mood gloomy. Nobody of the higher class at that time would find it appealing – they had no need to be reminded of the lower class, those beneath them. Yet today, this image of the fruits of true toil appeals to all, as a reminder that life is not life without hard work and its results.

In conclusion, it would be absolutely misleading to say that only the rich can appreciate the arts. Anybody can appreciate art, and art can be seen, heard or sensed under virtually all conditions.

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“The fight for gender equality is no longer important in today’s society.” Discuss.

Gender equality has evolved from an ideology during the time of the famed Rosa Parks to a massive human rights movement today. The movement that took the world by storm has borne many fruits, and society has made clear progress in this aspect. The significant achievements in this field and the widespread acknowledgement of gender equality have led to a slowing down of the once fervent race. The reducing number of protests, placard marches and campaigns has raised doubts in the minds of many. Perhaps, today, in a world as developed as the one we live in, gender equality and the fight for it is no longer important. They are wrong. Gender equality, and the fight for it, is still, if not more, important today, than it was in the past.

Indeed, the fight for gender equality has won many battles. The suffrage movement won rights for women all across the globe. It had not only increased the value of women in society, it did the same to a woman‟s sense of self-worth. The suffrage movement revealed many injustices and sought rectification and compensation. It demanded equal playing fields for both sexes, sending ripples through the many patriarchal societies, brought education to women, a right now largely recognized, and allowed women to contribute to society. It raised a woman‟s status, esteem and notion of self-worth.

The fight also showed considerable results in the working world, which was largely dominated by males. The fight for gender equality has decimated glass ceilings in jobs across the spectrum, allowing women to take on higher societal or organizational positions. It awarded women equal opportunities, with many companies now functioning on the system of meritocracy. Today, more than 30% of high position jobs are occupied by women, compared to less than 2% in the 80s.

In the political arena, a once largely male-dominated as well, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton are among the few women charging head-on into a once foreign field. Hilary Clinton ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic elections in 2008, matching him state-to-state until the end. Clinton is a stellar example of how women can contribute more than their two cents worth. Despite losing to Obama, Clinton continues to stay in the political game, aiding the Democratic representative in the Presidential Elections against John McCain. The fight for gender equality has opened up many doors, managing to even allow women to take a slice of the political pie.

The success of the fight is apparent. However, today, many are questioning if maybe enough doors have been opened for women, and whether the importance of the fight has disappeared. This may ring true for developed countries, but for developing countries which are still far lacking in resources, and the courage to take on an idea seen as absurd to some, or dangerous to others, women are still at the losing end. It is only because the developed countries refuse to acknowledge this fact that it appears as if the fight for gender equality has outlived its welcome.

In strict Muslim societies such as Afghanistan and Iran, backward traditions and mentalities hinder the countries’ growth. In the former, statistics have shown that less than 10% of the reported cases of rape have received justice. Ridiculous clauses, such as requiring at least two adult male witnesses willing to support the rape claim, prevent many cases from even gaining access to a court hearing. This injustice has long plagued the country, with little being done to rectify it. However, this problem is also the reason for Afghanistan’s uncivilized laws, which prevent it from gaining a good standing on the international level. This could lead to a stagnant economy, or even worse, a stagnant economy trapped in the dogmatic principles of the past.

In the economic domain, developed countries are no exceptions. The perception that a male has more value than a female runs deep in countries like India and China. Both countries are, today, facing an imbalanced sex ratio, that of China being one female to every 1.6 males. In China‟s case, the one-child policy is the main culprit. Set during revolutionary days, the one-child policy allows each family to have onlyone child, or two, in special cases. While this was done to combat the problem of a population growing faster than its country could support, it has brought along with it many problems. In both countries, infanticide ranks high on the causes of infant deaths. The desire for a more valuable male offspring has led to increased abortion rates and cases of baby girls being abandoned. The imbalance in the sex ratio also has many serious repercussions. It has been linked to increased crime rates, with men unable to find a bride, resorting to kidnapping, buying or trafficking women to fulfill their needs for companionships or carnal desires. A largely unmarried society could ironically lead to the downfall of the family unit, a component of society valued by Asians. High migration rates could lead to a drastic fall in the working population, in turn resulting in a weakened economy.

It is age-old out-dated views, captured in equally old saying such as “Eighteen goddess-like daughters are not equal to one son with a hump‟, that still call for the fight for gender equality to continue. Statistics like that fact that women make up 60%of South Korean graduates but constitute less than 25% of the working force only compound the problem. Crusaders of this mission have yet to fully spread their message, with only larger communities benefiting. Besides the fact that the ‘cease-fire’ could bring repercussions such as the ones faced by China and India, the fight for gender equality is also, above all, a stunning example of human spirit. Just like the heart-warming stories of Chinese natives who went out of their way to help their fellow men after the Sichuan earthquake, the fight for gender equality tore social theories, such as social Darwinism, to bits. It displays human compassion in a dog-eat-dog world, where the more fortunate gives to their less fortunate counterparts. Philosophers like Charles Darwin believed that Man is born selfish. The continued fight for gender equality proves otherwise.

In conclusion, gender equality, and the fight for it, is still very important today. It will help to level unequal playing fields, giving women a voice and a place in society. It will display the full capacity of the human spirit, with both men and women, spanning the various races, jobs and social standing, joining in the biggest human rights movement of all time.

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“Men and women were never meant to be equal.” Do you agree?

Almost a century ago, the first feminist movement took off, where women fought for equal opportunities, respect, recognition and rights as men. Today, there are numerous prominent female figures who have taken up the roles that were traditionally dominated by men – the present Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, former President of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and present Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, are just a few examples suggesting that the pursuit of equality of the sexes is very much feasible and realistic. However, it remains that there are certain intrinsic qualities of men and women that perhaps point to the disconcerting fact that men and women were never meant to be equal, and hence, the pursuit for equality of men and women is futile.

The intrinsic and biological sexual dimorphism between the male and the female genders are numerous. Research has shown that men tend to have greater aggressive tendencies, greater muscle mass, better spatial skills and quick arousal in response to sexual images. Furthermore, it is also interesting to note that an overwhelming majority of serial killers, psychopaths and criminals in maximum-security prisons are males. On the other hand, women tend to have weaker visualization skills, better skills of communication, verbalization and emotional empathy – it is no wonder that over 50% of the teaching workforce is composed of women.

These intrinsic and biological differences between men and women ultimately lead to seemingly logical differences in the social roles of each gender. Women, who sacrifice a lot more nutrients in their bodies to bear a baby as compared to men, might naturally be inclined to play a greater role in the nurturing of the child in the family and in being homemakers. On the other hand, men, who are blessed with better spatial skills, greater muscle mass and strength, naturally take on the role of hunting food for the family. This structure of the human family, men as hunters and women as gatherers, has been passed on for numerous generations and over thousands of years. Overtime, this has resulted in men taking on far more dominant position in the societies of the world than women do. Additionally, women have a biological clock that prevents them from bearing a child after a little after the age of 40, when they hit menopause. This acts as the single strongest deterrent against any women who aspires to climb the corporate ladder – even half a year of maternity leave can be sufficient to disqualify a woman from a promotion. Indeed, these realities of the intrinsic differences between men and women are clear evidence that men and women were never meant to be equal in the first place, and it is perhaps foolish to consider the idea of gender equality.

With all the above arguments supporting that gender equality is an impossible task, it would be hard to image any country, which enjoys full equality of the sexes in the workplace and not suffer the detrimental consequences of falling birth rates. Yet, such countries do exist – Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, not only have among the largest labour participation of women, they also have among the highest fertility rates in the developed world. How is this even possible?

In today’s world, technological advances have allowed many women to take up jobs that would previously require a man’s intrinsic powers of raw strength. Labour-intensive industries, such as the manufacturing or mining industries, may now be done completely automatically by robots and machinery. Hence this has rendered man‟s intrinsic powers of strength useless in an increasingly technologically-advanced society. Furthermore, women‟s innate skills of communication, verbalization and empathy, may become increasingly attractive in the modern workplace. As economies of the world move from manufacturing-based to more knowledge-and-service-based, the skills and abilities needed in the workplace also gradually move in the direction of abilities that are not exclusive to men or women. Additionally, the modern female, equipped with an equal amount of education as the modern male, is no longer the disadvantaged sex. Education has allowed men and women to attain equal opportunities and qualifications, creating a fairer playing field between men and women. Lastly, the government may also play a key role in ensuring gender equality. Government-funded childcare centres, policies on maternity leave, economic incentives to bear children, all play a part to ensuring women do not lose out in the workplace.
Sweden‟s example of the possibility of gender equality is a promising sign for the rest of the world. It reflects the highly possible scenario for men and women to have equal opportunities in the workplace or public sphere, without having disastrous effects infertility rates or changing any societal expectations. Indeed, men and women can aspire to be equal after all, and the pursuit for gender equality is not only possible, but also feasible and practical.
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