It’s obscene, no buts …

As far as I understand, anal intercourse between a man and a woman has been legalized for many years. If heterosexual people in Singapore view an image that vaguely represents anal intercourse without depicting genitalia, an image clearly meant to carry a political message than to represent sexual activity, and somehow want to try out anal sex as a result, they are merely fantasizing about engaging in an act that is legal in Singapore. If the image does inspire deviant behavior, the behavior is in itself not an instance of criminal deviance. Of course, it may be regarded as deviant by various conservative people out there, but it is my opinion that the legal system should refrain from taking a stand on acts that are legal in the eyes of the law. It is possible to say that the depiction of rape could corrupt minds, but it is another matter to say, for instance, that the depiction of premarital sex could corrupt minds.

To complicate the matter by saying that the image is posted by a teenager who is likely read by other teenagers and who might cause his peers to experiment sexually or corrupt their minds raises further questions. Perhaps no one is saying that an older person who is unlikely to have a young teenage audience base could get away with posting an obscene image more easily than a teenager doing the same thing, but one might wonder if assumptions about potential audience that have yet to be concretely proven could be an undeserved influencing factor when it comes to determining the effects of the image.

Furthermore, assuming that there are enough teenagers who get so titillated by an image (specifically one that comprises the faces of two dead politicians superimposed on a poorly sketched image of two figures seemingly engaged in anal intercourse) that they want to try out anal sex and assuming that the rest of Singapore is in a position to judge others for whatever sort of consensual sexual activity they want to try, perhaps the solution is to have proper sex education for these teenagers rather than to make it criminal for such images from being posted online. If we cast aside the political sensitivities of using the images of two politicians in the image, the image is merely a vague depiction of anal intercourse without any explicit depiction of bare breasts or genitalia. It seems to me ridiculous that someone can be guilty of obscenity because of such an image — even the verbal descriptions of anal intercourse by a certain ex-NMP in the Parliament actually seem to me more explicit. I am by no means saying that the judgement passed on Amos Yee is wrong. In fact, I assume that the judgement passed is in accordance with the law, and it is the law that needs to be changed to safeguard people’s right to free expression.

Much more direct and sexually suggestive images can be found in popular culture. If “deviance” as defined by ultra conservative standards is the concern, can we have any assurance that a rather innocent image of two men or two women kissing will not be regarded as obscene in the eyes of the law? After all, such images could cause young people to experiment sexually and corrupt their minds, could they not? How about rape scenes featured in TV shows and movies rated PG? If someone takes a still from such productions and posts it in his blog, perhaps we should haul him to court for circulating an obscene image given that a single still taken out of an entire work would likely hold none of the artistic value of the original work. After all, what if teenagers see the still and start going on a rape rampage? In fact, one might even call for a ban on sex education that does not preach abstinence as the sole decent behavior – an introduction to stuff like condoms and graphics that depict sexual penetration in greater detail than Yee’s pathetic picture could well cause teenagers to experiment with casual, if not unprotected, sex. (Just let those silly teens wonder what they are supposed to abstain from!)

Perhaps there are those who do not actually care about a teenager they deem arrogant and in need of a tough lesson. No one is obliged to sympathize with Amos Yee, but it pays to remember that, if the laws remain the same, Yee’s case could set a legal precedent and stifle free expression further in Singapore. Even if people do not always get reported to the police for posting provocative images with a political message, the climate of fear will persist and it does not bode well for Singapore’s democratic progress. (Then again, who am I kidding? How many people here give a buttfucking damn about democratic progress if they could talk about bread-and-butter issues or demand that Edz Ello be jailed for sedition after protesting about Amos Yee’s sedition charge?)

A Legacy of Hyperlegalism?

Amos Yee was arrested. Amos Yee will be charged. Amos Yee may be convicted.

The police were doing their job in arresting Amos Yee. The police will not be wrong to charge him. The courts will not be wrong in their judgment, and must never be said to be wrong.

From the arrest to the charges to any eventual conviction, there will be no wrongdoing you can accuse anyone of. There is no sarcasm here thus far for the police and the judges administer justice as they ought to — there will no room for personal biases even if they might personally, for some reason, empathize with Yee. This is the Lee Kuan Yew legacy that many are proud of.

Those who made the police report had the right to do so too. They were reporting behaviors that can be prosecuted. Yet I can’t help but wonder how Lee Kuan Yew, if he now exists in some sentient afterlife form, would react to those who made the police report against the sixteen-year-old boy. There is no need to emphasize how young Yee is for many before me have already pointed it out to the extent of making it meaningless. If I were honest with myself, his age does not matter much to me. He is old enough to think and exercise discretion. But even if Yee were twice or thrice his age, should it make a difference? Regardless of his youth, he is someone expressing his disdain for a politician the Singapore society the latter played a big part in shaping. One might say that he is irreverent, disrespectful, vulgar. One might even gasp and say that he is offensive. (But may I just mildly and politely ask, with no intention to offend or aggravate any fragile Singaporean soul — look how cautious I am trying to be! — if no one is allowed to offend anyone in Singapore?) Ironically, the trouble Yee is now in might in the eyes of some onlookers justify his unhappiness of Singapore. The Lee Kuan Yew of my imagination will not even condescend to deal with an insignificant small fry. Unfortunately, perhaps Amos Yee did not upset Goliazilla himself but had incurred the wrath of his overly concerned henchmen?

Did those responsible for the police report against Yee feel offended or genuinely worried that his brief allusions to Jesus (which, from what I understand, were made as rhetoric to bolster his messages about Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore society) would really hit sensitive religious nerves badly enough to damage social cohesion in Singapore or threaten national security? Did they see his behaviour as being comparable to those who call for the persecution of people belonging to a particular race or religion? Did they think that the video might incite people into turning violent on Lee Kuan Yew supporters or Christians? Would those who made the report against the boy, who is now going to be charged with circulating obscene material too, routinely report every single blog they come across that features content definable as obscene and that is maintained by someone in Singapore? I can only ask. Or perhaps I dare only ask. I must only ask for I cannot presume to read minds or hearts. (Or perhaps I are only ask because I have seen the darkness of hearts before.)

I can only ask if it is at all possible that there might be one, maybe just one, amongst those who reported Yee to the police that might actually be motivated by his anger with scornful criticism of Lee Kuan Yew that is within the limits of free speech even by local standards, but sees the chance to get even with Yee in the more legally questionable parts of the speech.

It is reported that the boy will also be charged with “making threatening, abusive or insulting communication that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.” I do believe some people will claim to be distressed by whatever he said, and I have no doubt that people may really be offended. And it would be really, really funny, wouldn’t it, if a person making an anti-LKY tirade were only charged with offending religious sensitivities and circulating obscene content? This is the charge I would personally least question though it also involves the law I find most disturbing. Insulting communication that will likely cause distress?

(Would any lawyer reading this like to advise me whether to make a police report about that bugger on Facebook who definitely distressed me by calling me “Auntie,” a term which I find very alarming and insulting? Thanks, especially if you can file a police report on my behalf.)

Again, my untamed mind cannot help but ask questions (not again?) despite faith in the competence of the police and the judiciary. Are there flaws in our laws and is there a problem with Singapore society?

I wonder if we have become a society of too many laws that cast their nets too widely. More despondently, I wonder if we have become a society that has no qualms about invoking controversial laws and, in so doing, perpetuate them and justify them in the collective consciousness.

I am not even thinking about those who reported Yee to the police. I could be talking about you, you and you too — you, who might have nodded as you read whatever I have written above, but who also might have called for people like Edz Ello to be arrested by the ISD or to be charged with sedition even though you could have signed petitions to abolish the ISA or to get rid of the law on sedition altogether. (Oh dear! Did I offend you?) Even if there is not one person amongst those who reported Yee to the police out of vindictiveness (the existence of which no one can conclusively prove or disprove), I am afraid I have heard all too many calls for the use of the law against individuals they happen to loathe or disagree vehemently with. Perhaps it is a mentality trickled down from the top and distributed very evenly (unlike some other things that are supposed to trickle down). Many Singaporeans, for instance, are familiar with cases of defamation suits in which opposition politicians were sued to bankruptcy, but the plaintiffs were exercising their legal rights, and the opposition politicians were technically being defamatory, and the judges were not at all being biased. It is also common for people to perceive these lawsuits as effective ways of curbing oppositional voices rather than necessary for the protection of politicians’ reputations. (Of course, can I really blame the masses if the very people who might have called for a more gracious society set an example by crushing their opponents with the law?)

People do learn fast and learn well. People have learned that racial and religious issues are defined in the dominant discourse as sensitive issues, and they have learned that it is possible to get others into trouble for being insensitive when it comes to “sensitive” issues. People have learned that certain behaviors that would easily be dismissed as banality in many other countries could be spun into something as apparently serious as sedition.

Why try to persuade and negotiate when one could pressure or even coerce and yield better results?

(But when people cannot persuade or negotiate, their immaturity will always be the perfect excuse for the lack of progressiveness.)

When the citizens and the state invoke the same bogeyman, it becomes exceedingly difficult to reject its existence because it has been collectively imagined into being. One can do little but lament the stench of vindictive opportunism when a legalistic society increasingly embraces the wanton jettisoning of ethical principles. This is perhaps the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew when it is left to develop into a monstrosity he himself might not have intended or foreseen.

Will those who reported Yee to the police be appeased or ashamed if they are told that they have managed to scar a person’s life, potentially destroying his future prospects? Will they feel a sense of achievement if they see their fellow Singaporeans, upon witnessing Yee’s predicament, become too intimidated to speak up when their views are not pro-establishment? Again, I can only ask — until asking becomes distressing and alarming too.

Amos Yee is not the first casualty, and he will not … Complete the sentence yourself if you have read till this point. It is too predictable and painful to finish it myself.

Mortal, Myth, Monolith

On the Mortal: A Conversation with Too Many Asides

Why do you still hate him?

I would have loved to say that the unthinking asking of the accusatory question was its own answer, but it would both be offensive and incomprehensible. (Though one might suppose that the uncomprehended cannot possibly offend, it pays to remember that this is Singapore.)

My most patient answer to the understated accusation of callousness: It’s an ethical imperative.

Why not? Shrink yourself, come in under the shadow where I am, and let me show you.

He’s dead. Live and let live.

One more clichéd accusation and I will –

Dead? Well, I have never hated the mortal, greying flesh presumably capable of feeling pain and even affection, though I have never liked him either. Who is the mortal? You may think that his love for his wife amongst other well-publicized biographical nuggets, was admirable, but neither of us knew the mortal. But I know too well I did not know.

The Lee Kuan Yew I hate is the one I have been living and continue to live – he is scattered, invisible, overpowering.

The God of Crazy Things

Almost immediately after the death of the mortal, the corpse started to be milked for its use in the inscription of Singapore’s own creation myth into malleable collective memory, grotesque hands tugging at eroded strings of gratitude, regenerating them through the overdrive of the state machinery. The media, flooding with content about Lee the Great, galvanized everyone to renew their vows of awe and indebtedness. Schools teachers, unsurpassed if sometimes helpless agents of state-endorsed morality and conduct, were mobilized to be priests of praise rituals for kids, barely cognizant of death, to express their grief.

The mass bewailing is celebratory – the celebration of one man’s supposed achievement could hardly be distinguished from a celebration of his death. Explosion after explosion of exaltation clothed with standardized signs of grief haunted the city. It was almost as if years of preparation and anticipation had finally found an outlet for expression with the mortal’s mortality now evident. Even schoolchildren, not looking at all saddened, would call him a “hero” when interviewed by a TV station, as though Marvel had recently bought the rights to this fascinating character. Who would have the heart to hate the mortal with its corpse now perversely pilloried from the hospital to the Istana to the Parliament House by unreserved, undeserved praise distorting the freshly lost life ?

No indication of reservations in praising Lee the Great was taken kindly. Opposition politician Low Thia Khiang’s tribute to the mortal was attacked immediately, in uncanny resemblance to the reactions following the death of Lee, was akin to a delayed reflex action finally allowed to take place after prolonged suppression and eager anticipation. None of the devotees would accept that his willingness to pay tribute to a person despite his basic beliefs is a higher show of respect that their worship rituals. As those politicizing Low’s tribute began to accuse him of politicizing his tribute, a bemused observer could have concluded that, deployed properly, death is both a potent pre-election-campaign booster and a childishly brutal pre-emptive strike against political opponents.

If the devotees were a cult, the remains of its designated supreme deity, or perhaps its one and only god, might well be cringing in its grave altar. One could almost picture the corpse getting up one last time just to scoff at the ludicrous actions of the devotees he never asked for. But the corpse, once a man who made no apologies about crushing the opposition, can now only content itself with resting beneath the mass of prickly polyester laurels heaped upon his inert body. Perhaps he did die peacefully, but it would be a miracle if he could be dead peacefully as well.

If the corpse were allowed to remain a few more days, I would not be surprised if selfies with the corpse would be allowed due to popular demand (perhaps for an affordable fee, complete with subsidies for people now known as the pioneer generation), together with celebrity endorsements of Lee Kuan Yew as if it were the latest product of the designer label, PAP, and perhaps a pyramid would even be erected in the Padang for the purpose of housing the Lee mummy for posterity to enjoy. This is, after all, the sort of respect that some were unknowingly demanding – desecration via consecration, violation amidst the insistence on inviolability.

Certainly, high praise for the slippery signifier, Lee Kuan Yew, does not come as a surprise. Everyone know the massive affair the mortal’s death would be. What few would have expected was praise that would morph into a culture of manic mourning that defined non-participants as disrespectful ingrates. It was no praise, no remembrance. On March 23 2015, a deity called Lee Kuan Yew was born and the mortal Lee was soon obliterated by the memory of a manmade deity. A casualty of the very system he had played such a big part in shaping. There was barely any space for the genuinely saddened to mourn when the face of the mortal is turned into a ribboned head to be tattooed and replicated in various forms, a map imprint, a fantasy currency design, a stout logo, totally collapsing the distinction between ostensible tribute and parody. Once iconic, Lee is now a mess of icons in a new temple of rubble.

The mourning, frenzied but ultimately hollow, left me incredulous. But this, too, is not the Lee Kuan Yew I hate. Why hate a fictional character?

Kuan Yew

The Kuan Yew I hate is perhaps more successful than the mortal himself realized and the devotees would ever understand.

This Kuan Yew is too massive to describe, but one could start with the creators of the aforementioned deity — not everyone who appeared saddened by the mortal’s death, but those who appeared saddened as they created a totem for their own pleasure and tried shoving it down every Singaporean throat. (Perhaps this is the pleasure afforded to some by exceedingly successful authoritarianism.)

This Kuan Yew is the unquestioning attitude so many Singaporeans have towards the grand narrative of how the PAP brought about Singapore’s progress (progress has only one definition, apparently), the mass of unthinking people who indulge in their own failure to think as a predisposition to being balanced and moderate, the gratitude imperative that plagues the country and defines dissatisfaction as a failure to appreciate how oppression has benefited Singaporeans (but of course it’s never known as oppression!), the city of sedition-defamation-contempt-sensitivity-allergy-atrophy, the ridiculous degree of state influence that people generally accept as normal even when it involves the most banal activities ranging from top-down orders for SG50 “celebrations” everywhere and anywhere to mandatory mass mourning, the failure to understand that Singapore is perfect for those able to thrive in such a culture and a hell for those who are simply born without the constitution to survive painlessly in Singapore.

How do I hate thee? I can’t even count the ways.

Am I not guilty of deifying Kuan Yew too, in attributing him so much influence? I certainly hope not. The Kuan Yew I hate is neither mortal nor deity. The Kuan Yew I hate was a human leader who had too much power; he is also the lasting effects of this power that can be felt as I write this, as you read this. The Kuan Yew I hate is a mix of the mortal depersonified and the country personified. The Kuan Yew I hate, I wish I could not hate.

Enough of this verbose sacrilege! Enough of this waste of words to justify your loathing! Oppies are always so ungrateful. Haters will always hate! Let’s agree to disagree. Without Lee Kuan Yew, we won’t be here today! (I don’t want to be here.) He’s already dead! (NO!) If you hate it, just leave. You don’t know how lucky you are … I understand your position, but … Given Singapore’s situation, it is necessary … This is not the right time to criticize him. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time commenting … No place is perfect,

See, that is the Kuan Yew I hate. But, perhaps, if you would just be literate –

Forgive me for I’m not blessed to love or fortunate enough to be indifferent.

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.

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