At the crux of many debates and squabbles of a political nature in Singapore, many of which take place in cyberspace, may be said to be the issue of what we should say to begin with. We have free speech but we obsess with being responsibly free. We have opinions, but we have to be balanced too. Our political positions have to be rational. There are to be no flames for we must always remain sedate. We can be neutral and political at the same time, it seems. As long as we remain uncritically trapped by prescriptions about what is right speech, we will remain a fully politicized society that fails to be anything but political.
It has been said that the problems with Singaporeans is that they are apathetic and their apathy has even been blamed on the the PAP’s political hegemony and the apparent impossibility of change. But what exactly is the apathy that we speak of and which aspect of the PAP’s hegemony makes people apathetic? We can understand apathy as a lack of interest—people are apathetic about politics in the sense that they do not really care who wins elections or what policies are formulated. Naturally, this is too simplistic an understanding of apathy. It is impossible for people not to care at all about what affects them directly on a daily basis. It is doubtful that most Singaporeans do not care whether GST rises from 3% to 7% and whether their livelihood is affected by the government’s foreign talent policy. Yet, people do not often participate in discussions about such issues and they even less frequently take action beyond discussing about these issues. What we often call apathy is perhaps better seen as grudging or resigned passivity. “We care(d), but we don’t care anymore.”
One question, though, is why anyone would be bothered by the fact that Singaporeans are politically passive or apathetic. In the eyes of those who feel strongly about politics (and these are invariably those who take a stand against the dominant party), the passivity of Singaporeans is a form of complicity with the dominant party’s hegemony. On the other hand, the establishment is also concerned about apathy, but frames it as an issue of nationalism—Singaporeans do not care about Singapore, and they do not feel like they have a stake in the nation. While both the concerns highlighted are reasonable, perhaps a greater concern exists. Not only are Singaporeans expected to care (as opposed to being apathetic), they are also prescribed the right ways to care. They are sometimes told that to care is to dare—protest, project a voice against the oppressive forces. And perhaps they do not dare to care anymore. They are also told at other times that to care is to act responsibly—to be provide “constructive” criticism, to love the nation, stay rooted, serve NS grudgingly or ungrudgingly and do all the things to ensure that there will always be the Singapore that so many find unbearable.
What do we have then? We have vocal activists and opposition politicians (though not that many of them). We also have those who, interpellated by the State’s seductive call, fancy themselves balanced, rational, constructive critics who, more often than not (and I think they might lash their constructive whips on me here) spout wishy-washy pseudo-criticisms and are on stand-by 24/7 to cane those whom they deem unreasonable, i.e truly political. “You must be fair to the PAP. Not everything they do is wrong.” These are the people who believe that when you have a kilogram of criticism, you must balance it with a kilogram of praise and acknowledgement of good work. (Admittedly, this is an exaggeration, but do I not have the right to use hyperbolic language to make a point, however imbalanced and unfair it is?)
What we need are Political Uber-bitches who are not made to feel like they are obliged to be anything other than what they are, who can take a political stance without having to act in any way or justify themselves as if they have no right to take a “wrong” stand. What Political Uber-bitches need is some real space in which to exist, not an abyss in which they are constantly hurled prescriptions of steroids to enhance their allegedly subpar performance or sedatives to cure them of their perceived excesses. Unfortunately, hegemonic dystopian politics have their ways of shaping the world. It offers a couple of positions: one of marginality that can land you in prison (but of course everyone is entitled to it), another of a pleasurable complicity that allows you to see yourself as an exemplary critic when you are merely a toddler with a toy light saber. Cool effects emanate from the saber, but its blade is harmless. Political Uber-bitches? Well, they bark and find that every tree in Singapore is wrong. They may continue to bark, or they may stop barking. They migrate. They are more important than they seem.
[There is one right that governments are not able to directly take away. But they are able to induce people to deprive themselves. Are you about to deprive yourself of it?]
The next time you see a Political Uber-bitch in your neighborhood, give it a pat. (Yes, I can be prescriptive too. I reserve the right to be self-contradictory as and when I wish to be so.)
Come, correct me. But remember there is a mirror here. Remember not to look into it. For it is not about to assure you that you are the fairest of all.