Is Responsibility Talk Responsible Anymore?

There are times when irresponsible speech is made behind the fragile protection of anonymity of which no one is truly assured. There are also times when irresponsible speech is made under the sturdy shelter of excessive state power, which assures protection for the sheltered until it is demolished with much difficulty.

 

In a discursive space characterized by excessive state power, to campaign against anonymity under the pretext of encouraging responsibility (while failing to consider if some supposedly anonymous individuals are perfectly responsible and failing to wonder what constitutes responsibility to begin with) is often to attack anonymous irresponsibility while turning a blind eye to its state-endorsed counterpart (which, ironically, could also be employing anonymity too). This is in itself either a heinous act of irresponsibility or an act of astounding stupidity.

 

In the first place, a nebulous degree of irresponsibility is inevitable, if lamentable, assuming that the freedom of speech is to be protected. This is simply because no one can presume to draw clear lines between what is responsible and what is not. Clearly, if an irresponsible person out there earnestly advocates the bombing of a building, it calls for legal action to be taken against the person. On the other hand, if someone (irresponsibly) calls you an overprivileged prick that ought to be amputated from the institutions that have bestowed you your privileges, you can try to silence him and inadvertently prove him correct.

 

But this obsession with responsibility is itself disturbing. Why this persistent use of state-disseminated terms of discourse?

 

To begin with, why is it that a country known for its lack of respect for free expression has more discussions about responsibility in speech than about how to expand and protect the freedom of speech? It seems ironic. Or perhaps not. After all, it is precisely the power omnipresent in a political climate averse to free speech that produces its own justifications, that generates spurious standards by which it will be normalized or even necessitated.

 

This is not to say that all talk of responsibility is merely hegemonic and irrelevant. It is potent and dangerous because it is relevant. Expecting those who speak to be responsible is reasonable enough in itself. Nevertheless, if we allow our worldview to be framed solely by such concepts as responsibility without recognizing their origins and their limits, if we persist in circulating and imposing them on others without interrogating their insidious effects, we will end up being unwitting agents of power.

 

In other words, the problems in the rhetorical call for responsibility in speech does not (at least not always) justify wanton irresponsibility. To attempt to be subversive in such a manner is rather myopic, if not uncannily easy. After all, to repeatedly make irresponsible speeches is also to allow the calls for responsible speech to proliferate, to be justified, to be perpetuated. Instead of challenging the power dynamics of a country, such acts contribute to their longevity.

 

Furthermore, the quality of public discourse is often only as strong as its weakest link. The oppressive state actually benefits from a promotion of public discourse that is kept banal as possible; any apparent subversiveness in banality is likely to be tolerated as a result. Unfortunately, certain socio-political sites that have come to be taken by some as the benchmark of radicalism have fallen into the trap of committing serial banality, such as by breeding xenophobia through unbridled sensationalism, hoping to push the boundaries of discourse. This sense of being politically subversive without really being so perfectly represents the way hegemony incorporates into itself elements that appear dramatically contrary to itself so that no one really has to see beyond it. Indeed, boundaries are often pushed by the aforementioned faux radicalism, but what’s the point of pushing the boundaries of a two-dimensional square and remaining forever trapped on a piece of paper? Why not make it a three-dimensional cube?

 

But people are generally more conditioned by the state than they would like to acknowledge. Between the misery of being aware of how overdetermined one is and the dubious comfort of forever stretching out two-dimensionally, it is easier to stick with the latter. Perhaps this very laziness to even reckon with the potential of a multi-dimensional space has been successfully built into all but the least fortunate of us.

Paralysis in Productivity

On this day ten years ago, a blogger going by the moniker of Molly Meek started a blog on Livejournal, a platform that many might not recognize today. It was around that time that the phenomenon that later came to be known as socio-political blogging started to become popular, and the undeniably pro-PAP media soon caught up with bloggers, accusing them of being anonymous and full of barb. It was 2004, the same year that saw the creation of Facebook, though it would take several years before local netizens took to Facebook for socio-political causes. Within a short span of ten years, socio-political Interneting became pretty much mainstream in Singapore, and the almighty PAP itself has been questioned, if not undermined, to the extent that it has considered it necessary to enter the realm that used to be reserved for noisy troublemakers and even send its agents to infiltrate cyberspace. Within the same decade, two elections took place, including one in which the PAP suffered a historically significant loss of a GRC to the Workers’ Party. Online socio-political criticism and activism, especially with increasingly diverse voices that can be heard, must have played a part in bringing about changes that would have in the past been unthinkable.

On this day ten years ago, Molly started blogging on Livejournal (yes, Molly started blogging when she was in Primary 1)1 as an apparently bimbotic young girl though she has since given way to better qualified bimbos who shall not be named to avoid the charge of bullying. Although it was around that time when socio-political blogging started to become popular locally, the era of individual blogging soon gave way to one in which certain group blogs came to be considered more credible for some reason; that eventually gave way to the age in which anti-PAP sites that thrive on being virtually free of originality or thinking co-exist with their most compatible nemesis, covert forces deployed by a certain powerful political party to defend itself (perhaps so that it can delude itself into believing that it is always right and remains very popular with Singaporeans). Ten years, more than twenty per cent of Singapore’s post-independence history, is a long time.  Unfortunately, change has not been effected. Even the sense of hope that things are indeed changing has remained the same. There is no better tool to keep a citizenry complacent2 about the dissatisfying status quo than a belief that radical change is taking place. To be sure, there are new events all the time. The PAP’s loss of a GRC in 2011 seemed to mark a new era. But even 1984 once marked the birth of a brave new world, with the electoral achievements of JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong, don’t you remember? What came after that was another three decades (and counting) of PAP hegemony during which people were constantly excited about changes that were once unthinkable.

When Molly was still blogging more actively, she was at times described as being too angry (an unintentionally executed variation of the injunction to be constructive), as being simple (an exact word someone used though perhaps not earnestly), and as being obtuse (not an exact word used by anyone, but Molly shall leave you to contemplate which definition of this very interesting word to apply here).

These days, my online activity has been largely confined to Facebook where things tend to be shorter, more accessible and therefore less significant but more appealing. We have progressed to the world of one-second memes and three-worded captions that, whilst being a largely tax haven for the brain, allows people to feel proud of their wit. Like urban landscapes, it may have its architectural beauty, but when it devours all dense vegetation and varied foliage in the environment, the loss is regrettable. Yet, I would have blogged more frequently if Singapore had not damned us all to the inferno of endless echoes.

Because nothing really changes, we are left with the same criticisms, the same arguments and counterarguments and counter-counterarguments, the same complaints about repetitiveness, the same ironic self-reflexivity, ultimately the same silence amidst the old howls and vociferations that sound almost encouraging to the untrained ear. Anger and frustration can accumulate, of course, but one could have fun inflating the same balloon forever as long as air is allowed to escape periodically.

You may, and you should, take objection to the idea of changelessness, which is yet another repetitive cliché if you have not noticed. For a society made up of real human beings (even if they are robotized), changelessness is, strictly speaking, impossible. But change could simply be renewal. In Singapore, any allowed change is meant to be restorative, not revolutionary. Until you change your mind, perhaps. But will you?

Since the reach of the air inflating the PAP-Singapore balloon very much depends on the lung capacity and the depth of breathing of Singaporeans-in-discourse, it would be ideal to keep these people sedentary. As long as they do not breathe too deeply, as long as they inhale little air when they do breathe, the regular, though always partial (so that there’s always hope to keep Singapore going3), deflation of the balloon will always be sufficient to sustain renewal. In more literal if more abstract terms, the basic rule is to maintain discourse at the lowest possible level, intellectually or otherwise.

To begin with, many local netizens seem to believe in the existence of a conspiracy-theory-like Internet Brigade commissioned by the PAP to counter criticisms it has received, spread pretty untruths about the ruling party and circulate untenable anti-opposition claims, but not much attention has been paid to the belief itself and its effects as a cultural phenomenon. It has been understood, from press reports, that the PAP was not happy upon discovering that the only expressions of political sentiments online seem to be anti-PAP and thus childishly decided to balance the spontaneous expressions with non-spontaneous but pro-PAP sentiments. If you do not have it, fake it. Like a certain group of lunatics who recently tried to get a book removed from the public library through coordinated efforts to make themselves appear to represent the mainstream and the majority, the PAP’s efforts are concerted and thus disconcerting. Nevertheless, while such efforts may seem to dilute criticisms against the PAP, they probably have a limited effect on existing anti-PAP sentiments. The effect on discourse, however, is arguably stronger and more insidious.

As a response to pestilent groups like Fabrications About the PAP, netizens have plunged into paranoia, often easily and needlessly labeling others as IB. Those who wisely refrain from paranoia and try to patiently counter the usual Internet Brigade suspects find their words deleted (which is predictable) and/or end up repeating the same counterarguments in various enunciations. The beauty of the Singaporean stationary bicycle: repetitive movements in a state of paralysis. Exhaustion sans progress. Others learn to ignore the pests. But try ignoring the termite infestation in your house and see if you like the end result. Try telling your neighbor who is busy dealing with a termite infestation about the exquisite furniture you have just seen in a shop and see if he is interested. The harm done by the Internet Brigade (even if the Brigade did not actually exist) is the retardation of discourse. (But so what even if we recognize this?)

Even without the Internet Brigade, people have always been excessively reliant on the resources of discourse and resistance afforded by the state. Thanks to the PAP’s claim that it wants to engage the people in a conversation, it gets accused of failing to engage the people as though their failure were a matter of lacking engagement. Thanks to a few ministers’ claim that every school is a good school, people begin to expect every school to be a good school as though there is no need to ask if the education system itself was broken. Thanks to the government’s decision to update laws to tackle harassment and cyberbullying, people, both pro- and anti-PAP, started to uncritically (and wrongly) name behaviors as cyberbullying. It is common for us to see PAP critics calling for certain individuals in Singapore (usually non-citizens) to be indicted for sedition because they have made racially insensitive remarks, conveniently forgetting that the draconian sedition law is an instrument of the oppressive state that can be used to curtail their freedom of speech. Of course, such moves are often made to expose the hypocrisy of those in power, but there also appears to be little movement beyond parodic, ironic exposure that is still circumscribed by the cunning, stretching tentacles of the state.

Perhaps there is a certain pleasure for prisoners to indulge, again and again, in a performance of Prison Break by scaling and climbing the false fences constructed within their prison only to be led back to their cells by their wardens. This secure, permitted resistance allows them to experience breaking free without having to face the perils of the world outside after actually breaking free. Because further thinking expends too much energy and could cause too much misery, there is no incentive to break out of the discursive prison when one could get the thrill of playing Prison Break. Prisoners would even learn to reproach their peers for trying to scale past the final and only real fence and reminding them of its existence. (How could you be sure it’s not one big prison out there anyway?)

Perhaps, without even realizing it, people are all engaging in constructive politics/criticism, something that the PAP is fond of advocating. Constructive politics is easy. It is merely to assume that every problem can be solved with the PAP remaining in power; it is to tell the PAP to make changes without ever considering the prospects of actually replacing the PAP with something different. Of course, this may seem ridiculous given that “Vote them Out” has become a rather common refrain. But it is also all too often uttered because of the frustration with the PAP’s apparent inability to adequately address practical issues to do with livelihood. There are those, for instance, who seem believe that the one reason the PAP must be voted out is that it has opened the floodgates to foreigners (by now yet another familiar cliché), causing Singaporeans to lose their jobs or job opportunities. On the other hand, this seems to tell us that if there is one thing that the PAP has got right since 2011, it is the belief that it will likely not lose power as long as it solves problems livelihood and standard of living problems (or at least hoodwink people into thinking that it has taken effective action to do so).

Sure, vote the PAP out by all means—but why? Why not simply because it insists on being the dominant party and on being it forever, and such an insistence has allowed poorly crafted policies to be implemented without anyone to stop it? Why vote the PAP out because it has failed to deliver the promised Swiss standard of living and not because the very spirit of voting is threatened by its brand of politics, regardless of whether it can alleviate the massive economic problems it has created? The former reason is fair enough, but it is also to perceive politics in PAP lenses. In a way, many of the most vehement calls to vote the PAP out (notice the PAP-centric phrasing) are a desperate call for the PAP to change or for the PAP to be substituted with a party with different economic policies. Contrary to the claims that there is a political awakening in Singapore, this actually reflects an unfortunate lack of it. Without any deeper political awareness, Singapore risks prolonged PAP hegemony (there will be enough people who actually think that the PAP has already changed its economic policies sufficiently); it is an open invitation for more PAPs to substitute the current PAP.

What are you saying, Molly? Can you sum it up? Give me the key points? I’m saying the same old things, perhaps. No, I’m afraid not.

Yes, the PAP must go! Of course, but that’s not what I’m saying.

This gives me a headache. I’d rather move on to some list-based article on Singaporean trivia. Sure, go ahead.

The dust always settles … till the next gust of wind stirs it. Till it’s all washed away. Till it becomes.


Futile Footnotes

1Molly has decided to reset her permanent age to 17 because it is rumored that women might soon be conscripted and eighteen would become a dangerous age to remain at for life.

2An potential allusion to some occasionally wise old man’s words that some might have noticed and about which most do not care.

3Another allusion. To what, you are asking me? Seriously?

And Lawrence Makes Trouble [Pro-Family Ending]

[An unauthorized Fanfic Sequel to And Tango Makes Three]

Roy and Silo were happy to have Tango in their lives. Every night as Roy and Silo were fast asleep, smiles of bliss could be seen brightening both their faces.

Sadly, their happiness did not last long. One night, they were awoken by a group of noisy penguins led by another penguin, Lawrence. The group of penguins surrounded their houses and shouted at them.

Lawrence was upset that Roy and Silo were both boys, and felt that theirs was not a real family. He felt that a real family needed a boy, a girl and a baby of their own.

“Stop hiding in that house of yours!” yelled Lawrence.“Tango shall not live with you. Neither of you gave birth to her! This is not the way of penguins!”

The penguins behind Lawrence echoed his words. “Not the way of penguins! Not the way of penguins!” they yelled ferociously.

Roy and Silo looked at each other sadly. They could hardly believe themselves. Then they looked at Tango who was waking up between the two of them.

She, in turn, looked at Roy with her large, confused eyes. Then she turned to look at Silo with her frightened eyes. All three of them felt helpless.

Finally, the family of three walked out of their house to face the other penguins.

Upon seeing them, Lawrence demanded that Roy and Silo hand over Tango to him,but they refused. Tango was their daughter and they would do all they could to protect her from being taken away by rogue penguins.

“We don’t care what you think. You are not fit to raiseTango!” shouted Lawrence. 

The crowd behind him echoed him once again. “Not fit to raise Tango!” they shouted in unison. “Not fit to raise Tango!” they shouted in anger.

Fearing for Tango’s safety, Roy and Silo ran back into the house with Tango.

“Get out at once!” shouted Lawrence angrily. “Or I will shoot angry penguins at you!” It turned out that Lawrence had a troop of penguins who were prepared be penguin-missiles against Roy and Silo.

If you were there outside the house, you would have heard nothing but petrified silence coming from the house. If you were inside, you would have heard Tango sobbing with fear as she sat between Roy and Silo. You would have seen Roy and Silo looking at each other in pain.

The silence of the house was soon broken by a loud crash. Lawrence had shot a penguin at Roy and Silo’s house, breaking a window.

Another crash.

Crash.

CRASH.

CRASH!

If nothing was done to stop the angry penguins, the house would sooner or later be torn down by angry penguins.

Roy and Silo looked at each other, and they looked at Tango.They knew what they must do.

Roy walked towards the door and opened it.

Roy mustered his courage and shouted, “Stop shooting! You are going to hurt Tango!”

Tango was grasping at Silo tightly. She was unable to understand what was going on. She did not know why the other penguins were so angry. However, she knew that her fathers would protect her from harm.

Unfortunately, the only way to protect Tango from harm was to let her be taken away by Lawrence and the other penguins.

Weeping, Silo wriggled out of Tango’s clutch.

“You must be brave, child. Papa Roy and Papa Silo will always love you,” Silo told Tango gently. He tried to sound strong, but voice was at the verge of cracking in pain.

As Silo led Tango towards Lawrence, Tango started bawling. She could not understand what was happening, and she did not want to leave her fathers.

Unmoved by Tango’s cries, Lawrence sent a few penguins to Tango and they dragged her away.

Roy and Silo were devastated by their loss.

They could sometimes be spotted sitting on stones, hoping that they would hatch. However, whenever they did so, other penguins would throw stones at them.

No smiles were ever seen on their faces again.

 

 

 

[Alternative Ending]

Want an alternative ending? Write it yourself.

Midnight’s Seniors: The Generation of Perpetual Indebtedness and Gratitude

It is almost puzzling when we see that someone who turns sixty-five any day this year will be eligible for the Pioneer Generation Package that the government has recently introduced whereas someone younger by perhaps just a day—perhaps even less than a second—will be ineligible. What a difference a second makes when it comes to one’s contribution to society as recognized by the state.

Where policies that benefit specific age groups are concerned, the line has to be drawn somewhere. If I were distribute sweets to kids, there is only so much that I can stretch the age range that can be reasonably considered childhood. A mere second does make all the difference here, and justifiably so. The Pioneer Generation Package, announced as part of Singapore Budget 2014, is very much articulated as an initiative created with the elderly in mind even if it is not necessarily stated as such officially. As reflected the Budget’s tagline, “Opportunities for the Future, Assurance for our Seniors,” those eligible are the elderly and they will be assured of several benefits “for life“—or whatever is left of it (I assume the government hopes it is not too much). Yet, if it were supposed be a package for the elderly, why would someone born on 1 January 1950 at 0000 never get the package? It is not as though he, and those born after him, has been bestowed the fountain of youth by Singapore’s magical, if somewhat illusory, third-world-to-first development over the years. It would seem that, as far as the brains behind the package are concerned, these people either never grow old or they will grow old without needed the same kind of assurance as pioneers.

While the Pioneer Generation Package may be said to be a long-term policy insofar as it may take another few decades for every single eligible person to have passed on (though this day may never come because Kuan Yew, The Pioneer Supremo himself, is apparently immortal), the package is shows the government’s lack of commitment to policies that truly strengthen the social safety net. Despite the way it has been marketed, the Pioneer Generation package is never meant to be a benefits-for-seniors initiative to begin with. It cannot exactly be faulted for being dishonest—the name says it all. It is a single package, not a policy sans expiration. However generous the age range may be, the package applies only to a particular generation of people (and somewhat belatedly too, given that some of them could already have been languishing in old age and impoverishment for decades), not to a category of citizens that will have more and more new members over time. The Pioneer Generation Package is, of course, not meant to help the elderly—screw such policies for they can’t ever make the current government appear benevolent one election cycle after another! But the lack of commitment could, ironically, make for good marketing. Not only is the package targeted at one group of people, but it is also helps to cultivate a sense of exclusivity, giving the sense that the government sees the people for their unique contributions.

It is not as though the nameless elderly citizens, now labeled pioneers in a state-directed marketing exercise, are going to get special privileges as a recognition for their exceptional contributions to the country. The benefits included the Pioneer Generation Package are invariably meant to alleviate the burden of the less than affordable health care in Singapore. They offer no reward. Instead, they fulfil a desperate need—and this need is not even new at all. Whereas it is possible and reasonable for an authority to delimit a group that deserves to be rewarded, whether or not people have a need is not something that can be decided arbitrarily. If the need exists, it will not go away just because no one acknowledges it. If the elderly who are called pioneers today have financial needs (sure, this is an invalid premise since absolutely no one in Singapore has problems affording health care), so will those who are sooner or later going to reach the age of today’s pioneers unless everyone who is not classified as elderly today has miraculously enough money to retire comfortably. But their needs have so far been disregarded. Branding the package as an initiative born of a desire to recognize the contributions of a group of “pioneers” is a convenient way to alleviate their financial burdens without being obliged to do the same for those in uncannily similar predicaments.

Yet it is not devoid of persuasiveness, and that is where its danger lies. Rhetorically, it tells an existing and ever-shrinking group of people that they are visible and will be taken care of. As for the ever-growing group of elderly people who are not eligible for the package, their numbers will still be relatively small by the next General Election, and more one-off packages can be created when their size grows big enough to matter in a future election or when there is a perceived political need for the PAP government to repeat the same rhetoric. They can always have a package repackaged. If a policy is implemented for the future-elderly now, there will be nothing—no publicity, no novelty—to remind them of their obligation to feel grateful in future. It is not that the government does not have the foresight or the money to help a group that will over time have more and more eligible members. Rather, it is merely mercenary enough to avoid long-term commitments so that it can milk the most political mileage out of short-term packages. The iterability of a move like the Pioneer Generation Package, with its endless potential variations, ensures that there is a constant potential lack and hence a constant need for similar acts of ostensible recognition. It is no more than an elaborate and manipulative ritual of political courtship masked as nothing less than true love.

The Pioneer Generation Package is by no means an exception, but is representative of how the PAP has been and will be courting Singaporeans in a bid to regain the vote share it has lost to the opposition over the last couple of General Elections. We have the NS45 vouchers, for instance, which were supposed to recognize (the vocabulary recurs, as one might observe) the contributions and sacrifices of NSmen—while continuing to cripple them with inflexible policies and inescapable commitments, of course. Then there is also the implementation of a mandatory entry-level pay for those in the cleaning and security industries, a policy which the government refuses to call a minimum wage, perhaps because the minimum starting salary of $1000 is too embarrassing to be called a minimum wage to begin with when the cost of living in Singapore is amongst the highest in the world. As far as possible, the PAP regime will compartmentalize the demographic into segments that need to be targeted—segments that may feel disadvantaged by the PAP’s policies all these years—and try to hoodwink them one by one. If the government had truly wanted to recognize the efforts of NSmen, why limit the package to those who have finished serving or were still serving NS instead of making it an entitlement for all servicemen upon enlistment? Clearly, it prefers one-off packages that can be reinvented in cycles to permanent policies that benefit the people without anyone needing to feel exceptional gratitude to those in power year after year. The logic is impeccable—why be generous when there are more benefits to reap from being stingy?

To be sure, the government is all too capable of implementing policies that affect entire groups permanently, whether it is conscription or the setting of the CPF withdrawal age and minimum sum. Policies that make demands on citizens can be introduced sweepingly with token attention to objections (packaged as “engagement”) whereas initiatives that are meant to benefit citizens must be packaged in exquisite little gift packages that never become entitlements. There is always the excuse of fiscal prudence and the rhetoric of self-reliance to mask any hint of callousness in governance when ideas related to minimum wage or unemployment benefits are vehemently rejected. One of the PAP’s favorite tropes used to be the crutch mentality and its dangers for Singapore. According to the laws of Singaporean reality, it is a travesty for someone with a broken leg to ask for crutches (since he can still crawl to his MP for some food vouchers, I suppose), but perfectly fine to get him to go to war with a rifle since his hands are perfectly intact and he will have no problems shooting.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be those who will want to tease out any iota of merit in the policies of the PAP regime, whether these people are voluntary apologists or salaried propagandists. But at least people still do benefit regardless of the political intentions behind the policies, don’t they? Of course they do! Enslavement is not possible unless there are tangible benefits (to strain the poor word a little), such as the minimum amount of food to keep the slave alive and the minimum amount of rest to ensure that he is able to continue working even when his basic human dignity has been sacrificed. There is also always a more cruel slave master elsewhere. If Singaporeans are to become individuals who can live with dignity, fundamental changes to ensure that the needy do not have to depend on well-choreographed acts of kindness that can always be withheld, changes that go far beyond the short-term and limited packages the PAP is so fond of creating, are needed. The human body may survive the PAP regime, but not the human spirit. How is a society able to live with firefighters who allow fires to take place so that they will always be needed even though they are well positioned to prevent the fires to begin with?

Until we recognize that we must and have the will to do wean ourselves off mercy of our overlords, we will always be at their mercy.

Forum Theater: An Farcical Parody

Not only was the “Ask the Prime Minister” TV forum on 24 September a rehash of tired issues addressed with stock replies recycled with renewed idiocy (which apparently is a term that can be used on the Almighty Leaders of Singapore without the backlash of defamation suits), it also exposes the hollowness of the PAP’s Grand Rebranding Movement and its lack of even a pinch of commitment or sincerity to make required fundamental changes both the party and the society it lords over.

Other than the valorization of the LKYian leadership style (an element that has landed the PAP in its plight of increasing political irrelevance) in Hsien Loong’s belief that another Kuan Yew would be ideal for Singapore, the déjà vu-inducing replies made the 2013 TV program seem as if it were rerun of a 2003 program except that the same ideas are articulated in a patently post-2011 style of simulated engagement, with a semblance of the willingness to listen and pay some superficial attention to the severe problems that have been brought about by overpopulation and too much economic growth bringing too few benefits to the general population. Obsolescence is the new relevance.

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But the veneer wrapping the same old disrespect for Singapores can hardly conceal the true nature of the PAP’s policies as it becomes increasingly translucent and heads towards unintended self-ridicule. All it can depend on is the blindness and naivety of the electorate (and there is no doubt this is all 2016 prep), which is itself an insulting even if not altogether risky bet.

Blame the people, accuse them with insinuations, tell them that it’s wrong to be too reliant on the government to solve problems, presume that PAP and government will always be synonymous, conspire with pliant and compliant members of the mainstream media that ask questions without ever questioning. Refer, with blatant disregard to the lived experiences of the people, to every policy tweak or measure implemented as though it hasworked. At times, one wonders if Hsien Loong has been possessed by a Singaporean Stephen Colbert:

You can afford a flat, there is no need to worry. Get one, get married, start a family.

Say it enough, and it becomes a norm. Say it enough, and it becomes truth.

Say it too much, and you do yourself in, silly.

Mention work-life balance, and we will be told that there are going to be trade-offs. It’s an irrefutable, immutable truth—life is dangerous for the living. But we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? If we want a slower pace of life, we will sacrifice economic growth altogether. If we say that the government is growing the economy at all costs, it will be denied and the retort will be that we are ignorant of how everyone would suffer. It is as if we would all die if we were to attempt to live a more dignified existence. It is as if every PAP member has attended a meeting during which a list of prescribed responses to such issues was circulated—the PAP politicians sound identical, and when they beg to differ, they sound as if they have been directed to offer difference. Perhaps for the sake of that perverted sense of balance that is always so precious to the PAP. Everything is calculated, orchestrated, but no one will be caught having really deviated.

Work-life balance? No, shut up and continue to lead a zombie-slave’s existence. And remember to look happy while doing it, or else . . .

If we ever dare to challenge the enlightened PAP’s worldview because we don’t have pink lenses through which to examine world, it is because we are ignorant and “very preoccupied with our own problems.” The evidence of our ignorance, ironically, happens to be the state’s prescribed source of information—our newspapers preferred to have on the frontpage reports of the Jem ceiling collapse instead of the mall attack in Kenya. We are so ignorant that we do not know how to be grateful to the PAP for having crafted Singapore into a theater of, for, as the absurd. In an absurd-tragic twist of fate, the deficiencies of the state and its instruments have become the character flaws of the people they seek to manipulate. But no one bats an eyelid simply because the suspension of disbelief works best when we have imbibed the logic supporting the diegesis of this political nightmare, which has supplanted any conceivable reality which must now seem to us anything but realistic.

If we dare to challenge the rhetoric, we will be reminded that we are competing against developing countries like China, India and Vietnam, where the people have more spurs in their hide. To be sure, Hsien Loong did not mention any spur or hide—he is probably capable of repulsive metaphors, but not such sophisticated ones. But he clearly echoes his father, who did tell once us that Singaporeans are not driven or diligent enough and need more spurs. (To be honest, I would prefer to have Wolverine claws, especially when I write about the PAP.) If one had the liberty or audacity to hope, one can only hope that Singaporeans grow enough spurs to spurn the PAP for there’s no better performance indicator in the spur-growing industry. Meanwhile, we have to content ourselves with wondering why Singaporeans are perpetually consigned to competition with the people of the developing world, and why Singapore’s cost of living is never meant to rival Vietnam’s, but the workers’ wages are.

To be sure, workers worldwide face competition and pressure, but some have rights and are empowered by real unions whereas Singaporean workers face competition while wearing corrosive state-supplied apparel such as NS and holding water pistols known as the NTUC. Neither are workers everywhere in the world made to internalize a siege mentality while being permanently relegated to the lower rungs of Maslow’s triangle, prowling around miserably in order guard their few precious grains lest they are gobbled up by their competitors—or their government. This is totally in the interest of the PAP gravitational force, which ensures that everyone remains grounded. Self-actualization is bad for authoritarianism.

Such a governance style may appear to be the perfect vessel for brewing a full-bodied cup of rebellion, but revolt in any form, like all the lost selves of Singapore, never ever gets actualized. For Singapore’s main life-sustaining produce is ideology. As Hsien Loong says in response to a question about building trust between the electorate and the government (i.e. the PAP):

what you do together is critical

Graft the muzzles into the people using living tissue carefully excised from them. If people can’t grow into oppression, grow it into them. This is why the PAP enjoys bandying terms like participation and active citizenry. Initiatives like the Singapore conversation and the TV forum are no more than processes to refine the grafting techniques that have been in practice for decades. They supplement tried-and-tested techniques like The Straits Times, national education (and in fact education itself). The post-2011 modus operandi: implement a superficial or half-hearted measure that supposedly alleviates one of the things that people have been complaining about, advertise it, harp on it ad infinitum, and hope that everyone would believe that the PAP is exercising the political will to truly change things. Ministries spend money on TV ads. The HDB keeps telling us that housing is affordable, and the LTA keeps telling us how many more buses and trains there will be, or how certain roads would be expanded. The PAP has always believed that it has done no wrong and simply needs to convince the unappreciative plebeians to accept what is right. Undeniably, the PAP believes in change post-2011. It’s just that the PAP seeks to change the electorate, not itself.

When it comes to mass manipulation, just telling isn’t all that effective, as Hsien Loong knows. Everyone must be a participant. Just recently, the news that young students are encouraged to make use of taxpayers’ money to promote integration attracted much attention. Such a move is typical, allowing the people to actively produce and indulge in the inane while treating it as a hallmark of social responsibility and maturity. And youths are encouraged to spread the gospel by telling tales (which is to say, by sharing motivational stories about foreigners online). These are merely an insidious ideological opposite of with an identical character to the xenophobic stories one might find in certain sources such as The Real Singapore. When executed with finesse, such initiatives are infantilization-cum-interpellation par excellence.

If we make any more noise, we will be reminded that we should not rely on the government to solve all our problems (vintage vomitus which Hsien Loong did not hesitate to rereregurgitate during the TV-forum). Irrefutable.

There is certainly one problem that Singaporeans can and must solve on their own: the PAP.

Free Speech and What(is)not

# This article first appeared on my Facebook page as a note.

When the minister blocked these anti-singapore bloggers, they cry no freedom of speech . And when they blocked , they say is their rights. [sic where applicable] (Quoted from Fappers)

 

Not unlike how the PAP pointed fingers at Town Councils managed by the WP when people questioned its transactions with AIM, the mythical PAP IB (which comprises rare specimens of mutant life forms dedicated to furthering the PAP cause, such as the fab fappers) points fingers at others such as The Real Singapore when you question its insane moderation policies.

 

It is true that there are anti-PAP websites and social media groups such as The Real Singapore that have deleted comments exposing their lack of integrity and banned users who do so. Nevertheless, just because The Real Singapore appears have practiced censorship unncessarily, it does not mean that everyone else not sharing the political views of the pro-PAP groups has done so too. Neither does it mean that the PAP IB has any sound justifications for doing so. And it certainly does not mean that no one is allowed to criticize groups like the fab fappers for indiscriminately deleting reasonable comments.

 

To be sure, there remains the question of why anyone (Molly, for instance) would harp on the censorship practices of the fab fappers instead of on the same behavior on the part of TRS. The reason can be rather straightforward—one is more likely to comment on what one is affected by, so if I do not read TRS posts and see comment deletions or if my comments have not been deleted by its administrators, then I am less likely to comment on its behavior as compared to that of another group that has deleted my comments and banned me. Of course, people like the fab fappers would stubbornly, and rather childishly, insist that this is a matter of having double standards. According to such a line of reasoning, one cannot condemn one particular act of terrorism without also mentioning every other act of terrorism in history.

 

One issue that tends to be neglected by the adamantly simplistic, though, is whether every act of comment deletion or user banner in social media is equal. Quite obviously not. But those who relish in self-aggrandizing reductionist discourse will not acknowledge this. If someone posts defamatory comments about others, hate speech, or information that intrudes on people’s privacy on your website, you have a good reason to delete the comments even if you are a fierce advocate of free speech. There is no ideological contradiction here—no sound advocate of free speech believes that free speech has no boundaries. Ironically, it is sometimes the same people who accuse free speech advocates of being proponents of “irresponsible” speech that pretend that true believers of free speech should never delete comments or practice any form of censorship under any imaginable condition. One can only hope that netizens are generally not taken in by such arrogantly warped attackers of sound thinking.

 

A distinction should also be made in terms of content. When a group that posts on public issues with a consistently pro-PAP slant keeps deleting reasonable comments that expose how it attempts to pass ideology of as unmediated truth, it has the authority to do so. Such behavior is, however, questionable and can be distinguished from the actions of a blogger who blogs about his personal life and deletes derisive comments about him. In the latter scenario, it is arguably reasonable enough for two reasons: firstly, the blog is his and he should be free to decide what to allow there; secondly, it is not an issue that concerns others.

 

Perhaps one might employ the same reasoning for groups that comment on politics: they are the owners/administrators of their own websites or Facebook pages, so it is also fair enough that they determine what comments to allow. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with deleting comments in itself. (If you come to my house and my cat hates dogs, you had jolly well not bring a dog along. It is not as if I’m stopping you from bringing your dog anywhere else.) Nevertheless, one may question the intentions behind the deletions when the comments are on issues of public interest. A blogger like Xiaxue can delete nasty comments about her looks for all I care, but when a site that posts on issues of public concern deletes comments that express disagreement with the original posts, it could also be effectively disallowing clarifications of misrepresented information of public concern. It has the authority to delete whatever comments it wants, but there is a good reason to criticize it for making deletions.

 

Lest the issue be confused, it is not even a matter of free speech here. After all, just because FAP or TRS deletes my comments, it does not mean that I am not free to express myself in general. The problem is one of how misinformation is circulated without a chance of being challenged in its immediate context. Anyone who accuses FAP or TRS of curtailing free speech is wrong for they are not powerful enough to do so. It is not as if they have the authority to put people under arrest for expressing themselves in their own Facebook pages, for instance. The problem lies in the potential for public opinion to be manipulated by disingenuous (or perhaps downright malicious groups)—and it is not limited to any particular political stance—when differing opinions and additional information at a particular page are disallowed.

 

From my observations, there are Internet groups with different political views that have unethical moderation policies. While there are new media groups or individuals critical of the government which do not practice indiscriminate censorship, I have yet to see one from the staunchly pro-PAP camp having similar practices. But perhaps I’m just unlucky.

 

*A more rudimentary version of the thoughts here have been posted in a comment under a photo deleted by Facebook. There is a possibility that the original comment had been the inspiration of the epigraph.

Confessions of a Prime Minister

By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had lacked foresight. While his detractors tend to lambast him and his party based on the admission, it can only be considered a confession as much as his utterance of a ‘sorry’ two years ago could be considered apology.

In 2011, he made a pre-General Election confession. Two years later, he is still at it, post-election. The pre-election, post-election timings are like fine patterns in an intricate work of art, giving the entire charade such an artistic feel that you almost want to forgive him:

[I]f we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time. (Kuan Yew’s son, pre-General Election, 2011)

So we lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better. (Kuan Yew’s son, post-Punggol East by-election, 2013)

Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance. The PAP has become a pathetic echo of itself at its prime, holding us captive like a monstrous team of Norma Desmonds in their delusional bid at preserving a glory long faded, tragic yet deserving no pity.

With the irony that comes immediately after the confessional moment with the release of the population white paper which presents a utopian scenario where Singaporeans are compressed like gases in a pressurized can, one cannot help but marvel at how Singapore appears to be the work of an ingenious artist with a wicked—even cruel—sense of humor.

The confession, though, is no confession. In fact, instead of being an explicit display of remorse, it is an implicit self-exoneration coupled with an insinuation that the accusers, and not the accused, are the guilty ones. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for us to blame anyone for not being able to predict the future with complete accuracy (with 20/20 foresight, in other words); so the PAP is really not blamable, and it is unreasonable of  the people to expect the PAP to be clairvoyant.

If there is a difference between the 2011 and the 2013 statements, it is the lack of the semblance of something like an apology this time round, suggesting perhaps a hardened attitude. Nevertheless, the mainstream media spin it as an admission of fallibility—as if the PAP has finally realized what they had done wrong. Channel NewsAsia came up with the headline, “PM Lee admits govt lacked 20/20 foresight”, which makes it seem as though the government is now able to see where it has gone wrong. It is unfortunate that even the PAP’s detractors, in acknowledging and emphasizing the lack of foresight, are paying more attention to what appears to be said than what is really being said. To unwittingly seem to expect the government to have 20/20 foresight is also to be susceptible to the accusation of having unreasonable expectations.

While what the prime minister is saying could have been a good retreat-as-defense strategy had it been executed with more finesse, the 20/20 reference betrays him from the outset by making him appear excessively defensive. A more astute politician might have said that he could have done with better foresight, but Kuan Yew’s son wants to emphasize that the only way the PAP could have avoided screwing things up was to have an impossible amount of foresight. In doing so, he also unintentionally reminds us precisely of the fact that not much foresight was needed to ensure that Singapore’s infrastructure is adequate for its population. Khaw Boon Wan, in the typical way the PAP politicians try to engage what they probably see as the unintelligent masses by using analogies of the mundane, makes this apparent. The Straits Times reports:

The Ministry of National Development . . . released its Land Use plan, which details how the planners will find enough land for the 6.9 million population and the 700,000 extra homes they will need.

Mr Khaw likened this effort to throwing a wedding banquet. When one invites 1,000 guests, one must cater for all 1,000, he said, even if they have not RSVPed and perhaps only 600 or 700 ultimately turn up.

Thanks to the PAP’s eagerness to pacify Singaporeans, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding population, by assuring them that the infrastructure will be sufficient, it has become clear to the people that ensuring that there is enough land, housing, and amenities is, far from requiring exceptional foresight, actually a matter of common sense. In defending himself and his party, the prime minister has indirectly admitted to either lacking common sense or to having bulldozed his way through the population increase with iniquitous disregard for the people’s quality of life.

In both the non-apology of 2011 and the vapid self-defense of 2013, Kuan Yew’s son is perhaps right in holding one particular assumption about Singaporeans: Singaporeans, by and large, are not motivated by a strong desire for democracy when they vote—even when they end up voting for the opposition; many are likely to vote for the PAP if it gives the impression that it will take care of their livelihood. They are often unwilling to rock the boat lest they fall into the water, however illogical such thinking is. The apology of 2011 was aimed precisely at giving this group of voters, even those who were skeptical of how sincere the apology was, the hope that the PAP would start to solve the problems it has caused. Hope and conservative voting behavior help the PAP’s triumph. The same hope could have been generated by the admission of 2013. The message is simple: “We already know what went wrong, and we will fix it.” The PAP has always banked on a general lack of political maturity to actually want a more democratic system.

The last week of January 2013, however, could well mark a significant turning point. With the release of the white paper on population, Singaporeans were left in a state of helplessness for a few days as the state-controlled media churned out visions of the future and ministers repeatedly assured Singaporeans that their lives would continue to be good (as if there were any goodness left to continue). It is this sense of helplessness, especially just days after a by-election where the opposition emerged victorious, that pushes Singaporeans to start drawing the connections between democracy and agency, between neglected democracy and the bread-and-butter issues with which there is a constant preoccupation. Perhaps—just perhaps—a strong opposition presence, which Singapore sorely lacks, could help Singapore avoid the 6.9-million nightmare.

Of course, the PAP has been relatively quick to change its tack. Now, Minister Khaw and the son of Kuan Yew are saying that the 6.9-million population is simply a worst case scenario. We may find yet another confession here. For years, the influx of foreigners has been marketed as a compensation for low fertility rates. Yet, if this were true, how could the influx of foreigners ever lead to a worst case scenario? Imagine a Singapore where the fertility rate has always been what the government now claims to be the ideal. Would the problems resulting from population growth still exist? If so, then high fertility rates would be the culprit with which we do not have to concern ourselves. We can only conclude, therefore, that the influx of foreigners has not been calibrated to compensate for low fertility rates, but to drive economic growth that can be seen in official digits but not experienced by the average Singaporean. It has been and will continue to be excessive.

Nevertheless, we may just be surprised for a while—things may actually improve. Even as the population grows, the infrastructure is having a race with the population. There may be a point when the infrastructure overtakes the population, allowing the people to experience some respite and feel the temptation vote for the PAP again. Kuan Yew’s son has been reported as saying that there will be improvements within three to five years. Some respite as early as 2016, the election year? Things may improve, but only until the population overtakes and wins the race. There is only so much space in Singapore, and so much that can be reclaimed, but there is an endless supply of foreigners to increase the population till apocalypse strikes. The same old trap of thinking that things are finally improving works as long as Singaporeans keep walking into it.

Eventually, we will relive the same miseries. Immigration policies will continue to be liberal. Singaporeans will continue to experience overcrowding, crushing wages, and unhappiness which we will always be made shameful of articulating. The less privileged foreigners will continue to be lowly paid, easily replaceable pawns of economic growth as Singapore maintains its zero tolerance for strikes, high tolerance of exploitation. The PAP will continue to promise to do better next time. There’s always a next time for the PAP. Unless we collectively and decisively put a stop to it.

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