How civilised a society is can be measured by (1) the way it treats the dead and (2) the crime it tolerates. Or is it?

In London, a friendless and obese man was given a proper burial by the local municipal council after dying of natural causes at the age of 29. It took heavy-lifting equipment more than four hours to lower the oversized coffin of John Christian Jeffrey into the ground. Jeffrey weighed 330 kg at the time of his death and his oversized body was too wide to be cremated. Having no friends or relatives, the funeral lasted all but five minutes, was attended only by one person and was paid in full by the local council. The attending minister remarked, “The most important thing for us was that he was allowed to be laid to rest in dignity.”

In Arkansas, a man is currently on trial for putting his two-month-old daughter in the microwave oven. Joshua Mauldin, 20, barely old enough to be a father, is charged with felony for causing injury to a child. Mauldin purportedly put the toddler in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds to stop her crying. As a result, Ana was hospitalised for 11 days with burns and required two skin grafts. Physical pain aside, the emotional trauma of the child will last a lifetime. Mauldin is also accused of punching baby Ana and putting her in a refrigerator and a hotel room safe. The man pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. The brutality and senselessness of the crime committed reflects the uncivilised mind of an individual in our society despite the high level of education and technology achieved. The possible acquittal of the man highlights how uncivilised and perverse the justice system has become.

Have we become more, or less, civilised with time? I am awed by the immensely kind and selfless gesture to the departed in the first instance, but appalled by the perversion and manipulation of justice in the second. Have we, as a society, moved forward or backward? The answer requires soul-searching and an unflinching naked eye turned on our personal values, beliefs and systems.