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.
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.