Kuan Yew’s Confession

“Over time, our political leaders have become less hard-driving and hard-striving, winning elections through GRC walkovers. That’s why it would be a good thing for the people to welcome more opposition in the Parliament. If the incumbent party is falling behind because of its own complacency, that is its problem.”

(We should always learn from the Great Mentor himself, should we not?)

When Kuan Yew merely said that the approach to teaching Mandarin was wrong and sounded as though he was confessing that he was wrong, people took him too seriously and started saying that he has admitted that bilingualism was wrong. Unfortunately, he was merely insisting that bilingualism was right but certain practices pertaining to it were not. When Kuan Yew confessed that the relentless (and some say ridiculous) import of foreigners serves a social engineering purpose without making it sound like a confession, people do not pay attention to what a great confession he has made even if it was not deliberate. The following lines from The National Geographic have caused people to (justifiably) lambaste Kuan Yew for accusing them of an inferior work ethic and blaming them for being unable to keep up with imported competition:

Over time, the MM says, Singaporeans have become “less hard-driving and hard-striving.” This is why it is a good thing, the MM says, that the nation has welcomed so many Chinese immigrants (25 percent of the population is now foreign-born). He is aware that many Singaporeans are unhappy with the influx of immigrants, especially those educated newcomers prepared to fight for higher paying jobs. But taking a typically Darwinian stance, the MM describes the country’s new subjects as “hungry,” with parents who “pushed the children very hard.” If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem. (Emphasis Molly’s)

Yet, it should be more important to us that Kuan Yew’s remarks reveal that in the minds of our policymakers, the import of foreigners does not merely serve a practical economic purpose, as the most common justification goes. Neither is it really to add to the vibrance of the society through the introduction of different cultures. Rather, one conscious objective of Singapore’s policymakers is to shape Singapore though foreigners—by molding the social make-up with the sort of foreigners they desire, and thereby pressuring Singaporeans to match up in terms of these desired (even if not necessarily desirable) traits. In other words, upon finding that Singaporeans are beginning to demand too much, those that have the power for formulate policies are attempting to tame them by importing people who are willing to suffer what Singaporeans refuse to suffer. Hazy as the notion of “demanding too much” seems, it is essentially a political issue—people might be demanding for the pay workers in the developed world deserve (after all the cost of living has been getting higher and higher), or they might be expecting the rights that they deserve (such as the right to unionize and go on strike without a bogus national union). Needless to say, the likes of Kuan Yew would prefer to say that people are getting lazy and the country needs an impetus for them to become the way he wants them to be. It is a fact neither scientifically proven nor universally acknwoledged (and probably not politically correct either), but many new immigrants China (and perhaps elsewhere as well) are like ready-made successful socially-engineered Singaporeans par excellence. They are Kuan Yew’s ideal citizens (except when they do things like protesting to the Ministry of Manpower, but we are not talking about that class of Chinese citizens here) and he is holding them up as model citizens.

Kuan Yew has more than once expressed his dissatisfaction with local Singaporeans (I know “local Singaporeans” sounds tautological, but, believe me, it is not), saying that the newer generations of local Singaporeans are not rugged enough. Perhaps the best sort of Singaporeans are the ones who take millions of dollars from tax-payers every year for making remarks that offend them occasionally while oppressing them constantly. Clearly, most Singaporeans are not capable of achieving this feat, but we can at least expect Singaporeans to be willing to suffer needlessly and endlessly without complaining—or be “hard-driving” and “hard-striving” if euphemisms are preferable. In the current world, hard work may gain one’s exploiters more mileage with every bit of investment but it may not get one anywhere and that is why it can be said to be explotative. The law of diminishing returns sets in quickly for the exploited but the latter is expected to work increasingly harder, with job scopes stretched and working hours lenghened. But I suspect the National Geographic is slightly inaccurate in saying that Kuan Yew was being Darwinian. When I think of Darwin, I think of what happens in nature. Some call it the survival of the fittest— a species evolve over time because those individuals with traits that result in them being unable to survive well die out and those with trains that enhance their survival become representative of their species. (Do pardon me if I am over-simplifying Darwin or if I am technically incorrect.) But what is happening in Singapore is more akin to the disruption of ecological systems through the introduction of a foreign species. It is like human interference with nature, such as the introduction of rabbits to Australia, which has led to the extinction of native species. It is important, of course, to see that such an analogy has its limits lest it is mistaken that I am saying that there should be no foreigners in Singapore at all. Nevertheless, when the introduction of foreigners into a country is a means of manipulating the local population, sinister politics seem to be at work. Politically, introducing many foreigners to Singapore dilutes the already few voices of dissent that are present. Given that almost everyone in the world believes that the PAP is going to maintain its political hegemony for a long time to come, migrants to Singapore may be different from migrants to countries such as America. Or they simply have the financial means to get away any time they feel that it no longer benefits them. If new immigrants do not find the PAP’s policies and its hegemony acceptable, they may not choose to take up Singapore citizenship to begin with given that the hegemony is going to be quite permanent. As such, what we have are more and more citizens who favor or are at least not against the continued dominance of the PAP. Opposing voices will to some extent be drowned especially when new immigrants take it upon themselves to defend the status quo, and it is already happening if the examples of people like Frederic Fanthome who writes for the P65 blog and new citizens who write to the ST Forum are anything to go by.

To make matters worse, what Kuan Yew values in Singaporeans may not benefit Singaporeans although it might boost the country’s economy in terms of statistics.

“You gotta love how I push my children.”

What Kuan Yew wants is perhaps simply an intensified version of Kiasuism. He says that parents who are new immigrants push their children hard. And perhaps he is right. There was once when I saw a man from China (I am guessing from his accent) severely lecturing his son for not properly making use of the time to read when he (the father) went to the washroom. And perhaps Kuan Yew is right in implying that Singaporean parents do not push their as maniacally even though this by no means suggest that Singaporean parents are not pushing their children hard enough, if people should be “pushed” in the first place. Even if it is true that (some) Singaporean parents are not pushing their children hard enough, matters have to be clarified. Parents cannot push their children with just brute force. I am not taking an ethical stance here. Rather, one needs to have sufficient financial means to push their children. What good would it do for a parent to constantly scold his child and tell him to do good when the parent cannot even afford school fees? When there is solid ground in front of you, a gentle nudge would propel you forward.
If you are at the edge of a cliff, a hard push does no good and you are better off not being pushed at all. Do not blame Kuan Yew for forgetting this fact, however. I doubt he has ever seen his children at the edge of a cliff. He is just speaking from decades of inexperience.

“Don’t you wish you could be like me?”

There is no need to prove Kuan Yew wrong when he compares immigrants from China with local-born Singaporeans. His observations may not be totally wrong. We do see that many immigrants are “hard-driving” and “hard-striving”. We may disagree with the prescribed ethos of Hyper-Kiasuism and we may disgree that Singaporeans are not “hard-driving”, but Kuan Yew is entitled to his views. What we have to remember, though, is his failure to acknowledge that not everyone has the capital to participate in such an ethos and the fact that perhaps being silently hard-striving is not necesarily good for people or even for the country. This, in my opinion, is worse for an elected leader than being wrong about Singaporeans or disparaging them.

“I’m not hard-striving enough?” (Photo Stolen from TOC)

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Forgetting Foreigners For a While

First, citizens express their unhappiness when they perceive that their country seems to be the only one in the world that treats non-citizens better than citizens. So, it is decided that citizens should be more clearly distinguished from non-citizens. Make PRs pay higher fees, for example. Logic behind the higher-fees paradigm: If I give you two slaps, I’m treating you well because I’m going to give your friend three and that random stranger on the street four.

Then Permanent Residents raise their unhappiness: “Hey, we (some of us anyway) have to serve NS too but you are making us pay higher school fees!” (But what’s wrong with making PRs pay higher fees? They are not foreigners, but they are not citizens either, so why should they get the full benefits of citizenship such as being slapped one time less by the fair government?)

Or perhaps, from another perspective, it becomes apparent that the closer one gets to citizenship, the worse the deal one gets. Foreigners: no NS and no way to make them serve NS. PRs: Second-generation PRs and beyond have to serve NS, but they at least they have some choice in the sense that the first generation people are likely to be citizens of some other country and the second generation can blame their parents for not going back home to save them from hell. Citizens: No escape from NS unless their parents are rich enough to send them overseas while they are young enough. (I have to confess that I’m not sure if NS is the main issue or if it is just an example.)

How many citizens truly care about how much more in school fees PRs have to pay though? No doubt, many have complained that it is not clear at all what benefits being a Singapore citizen brings. And many people seem upset by the presence of foreigners in Singapore. But this does not mean that simply by making PRs and foreigners pay more for education (as an example) should appease the complaining Singaporeans. If the main point of contention is that the government has allowed too many foreigners into Singapore and this is not benefitting Singaporeans, superficial measures like raising school fees for PRs may in fact aggravate the situation. After all, one possible effect of such measures is PRs would be more inclined to take up citizenship, and if they do, it does not change the fact that they are still competing with the Singaporeans (more legitimately than ever) who are already here for limited things like jobs. Perhaps one day the government would distinguish between old citizens and new immigrants as well, just to show millions of people that they should continue voting for the right politicians. What is conveniently avoided is the question of why it is so easy for a foreigner to get a PR here, and why the government is allowing them in in such great numbers—at the expense of those who do not come from other places. (“Yes, you are making them pay more fees. But so what? They have already taken my place in the university thanks to you.”)

People also sometimes seem more concerned about non-citizens being safe(r) from the disadvantages of citizenship than they are about non-citizens enjoying the benefits of citizenship. Recycling to the analogy used earlier (because I am not creative), it is not so much “Hey, why is he getting a sweet just like me?” than it is “Hey, why is he not getting the shit I’m getting?!” The government is obliged to address the fact that its policies have made citizenship a nightmare. It won’t. It will never address it unless the people decide once and for all to change who makes up the government. But we know Singaporeans will never do that. In this ridiculous city, even certain credible opposition parties (credible because they are mild) seem to want the same government to remain in power. (Incredulous credibility.) I will be more than glad to publish a public apology for maligning poor Singaporeans if they are able to prove me wrong, say within a year. Otherwise I will stand by the theory that Singapore contains the most number of people per capita who love oppressive governance and embrace it as exemplary leadership. (If you are going to gripe about how acerbic and digressive I am, I am afraid you might be one of those Singaporeans I’ve just described. Please pardon me. I don’t know that such people actually read my blog.)

Perhaps we should consider things in a more creative even if completely irrational and wrong way (but do remember what I said about being right in the previous post). We can remove foreigners and PRs from the discussion and we will still be restlessly searching for a means of catching the elusive frustrations rolling around mysteriously in our hearts. (Hearts are those things that many Singaporeans have forgotten that they possess and can learn to take ownership of, in case the reader is wondering.) Foreigners are just for the sake of comparison. To put it as succinctly as I can, though at the expense of tact, people are just upset about how they have been screwed by forces external to themselves. Forces that force, such as, you know, governments.

Leadership and the Sanctity of Death

Act I: Doomed to be Right

Imagine a doomsday cult in which the leader makes a doomsday prediction: most people in the world do not believe the prediction, but the cult has its followers who believe that the prediction is right. The leader and the followers attempt mass suicide on their doomsday while the rest of the world lives on. In the world of the cult, like the diegesis of a fictive work, the leader will never be wrong. The moment the cult has to face the prospects of being wrong, it ceases to exist, as would be the case if everyone in it dies. In the event a number of followers survive the mass suicide, they might all lose their faith, hence leading to the demise of the cult. Alternatively, some survivors could continue to be right through retrospective explanations: the prediction is right; it simply did not materialize because of certain new circumstances.

Paternalistic personalities and their followers, devout and willing, if blinded, often posit that leaders must do the right thing, as if they have the authority to decide for the world the single set of criteria determining what is right simply by conceitedly ignoring the existence of plurality altogether. They sound irrefutable. By definition, being right takes precedence over all else, including being popular. What does it matter if people do not like what you do when you are right? It is obviously their fault for not seeing that you are right. The claim here should not be distorted—it is never claimed that leaders cannot make decisions that are popular and right at the same time. If a person does the right thing and his actions happen to be popular, everyone ought to be contented. If a person does the right thing but most others are not agreeable to his actions, one simple implication is that the majority is wrong. An implicit extension of this implication is that the leader is wiser than those he leads; even though he is not popular with them, they benefit from his right decisions. Another implication is that he who does the right thing has done more than just the right thing—he is heroic, a person who does not succumb to popular pressure, one who is willing to be misunderstood and sacrifices popularity to do what is right; and surely, the inherent rhetoric goes, such a person deserves more respect than indecisive weaklings who are, in a word, wrong.

We might add that, in addition to repression, authoritarianism works through the cult of the leader who is Right and indulges on self-valorization through the claim to be Right. Conveniently omitted in the world of such a cult is the obvious and logical possibility that a person can make decisions that are both unpopular and unacceptable or so-called wrong. Unpopular, wrong, but propagated as the one and only right decision. When the myth of the singularity of “the” right thing, popular and unpopular ultimately also become meaningless categories. What is seemingly popular but unwelcome by a stubborn minority that has seeped through the blanket of social engineering becomes the Wrong, as would be the case if a doomsday cult manages to convert two-thirds of the world population. Simple-mindedness is renamed balanced thinking. Hogwash becomes the embodiment of rationality. Which is perhaps why we always have to be cautious with calls to be balanced and rational in this society of cognitive chaos.

Not many leaders claim to be always right although propaganda machines are often deployed to create the impression that they are. Clearly, leaders of all kinds do not bother to remind us that they are right every time they make a decision. We do not often see the Singapore government claiming that it is right to hold elections, for instance. In contrast, we are quite familiar with why it is right to have ridiculously huge GRCs and why the PAP is right to sue certain members of the opposition for defamation. The idea of being right is emphasized most when the possibility of being (judged as) wrong is at its greatest. When you are wrong, say that you are right and look like you are a wise, self-sacrificing hero-leader. It works wonders, especially when you have successfully suppressed the development of intelligence in those you lead.

It is pertinent for anyone who wishes to participate in any form of public discourse to (re)consider the dichotomy between right and wrong as well as to question the necessity of this particular schema which is anything but inevitable. Authoritarian rule characteristically, though not charismatically, cast matters ideologically in terms of right and wrong. In a repressive communist regime, revolution (of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie) is right. It is wrong to go against revolution. The state gets to decide what is revolutionary (right) and what is counter-revolutionary (wrong). What the state does will never fail to be revolutionary whereas the activities of the people always have the potential to be counter-revolutionary. If you bad-mouth an iconic leader, you must be counter-revolutionary, so you are wrong and you need to be punished. If you find your living conditions appalling, you are clearly buying into bourgeois values and need to be re-educated. But if the state is always right whether it decides to take a great leap forward without capitalism or if it decides to liberalize the economy.

On the other hand, people may jettison what is right/wrong in favor of what might be better with different factors explicitly taken into consideration. Decision-making may never escape from underlying guiding principles or ideology but instead of taking these as givens, they (especially the most entrenched ones) should be exposed to scrutiny. Economic growth is perhaps the most irrefutable right thing. Not many people bother to consider that how economic growth is calculated for the country may not reflect how many (few) people benefit from it and how many silent, stupefied lambs are sacrificed in the process of meeting statistical targets. Perhaps the beautiful track record on which the PAP takes immense pride is also the party’s most glaring disfigurement. Admittedly, scars are sexy to those who have developed a strange fetish.More than anything else, I would prefer to have leaders who know and are open about the fact that they cannot presume to know what is right, if I need leaders at all. (The mystification of leaders(hip) in our society inevitably involves the power inequalities of hierarchy even though this is often downplayed in rhetoric that makes hierarchies an invisible presences to facilitate the imposition of power, subjecting people to power but leading them into thinking that it actually does not exist.)

“Then we will never get anything done!” This is a typical defense when we try to call for an abandonment of the cult of the leader who is right. We are all too familiar with defense via presumptuous circularity: “More opposition parliamentarians? Then decision-making will be paralyzed because opposition members will stop the PAP from making the right decisions!”

The predictable conversation (or the lack of one) continues:

“But what if the so-called right decisions are against our interests?” we ask.

“They are the right decisions! You cannot expect everything to go your way. Look at our great track record of economic growth. We are right.”

“But why does my life seem to be getting from bad to worse?”

“We are doing the right thing. Let’s move on.”

We so badly need strong decisive leaders who love to claim to be servants. Self-serving, perhaps. People are blind to the paradox in the notion of a paternalistic service. Join the cult. Or be damned to the hell of eternal futility, where the fires of frustration we spit burn only ourselves. Trust our leaders to do the right thing, trust them to have done the right thing, even if you die from their right decisions.

Act II: Death to the Living

Maybe I am wrong, but, certainly, death is at times in the hands of the state.

It is right to have the death penalty. They deter crime. They serve a good purpose, even if the extent of their effectiveness is unknown. Another irrefutable truth from those who do right.

The death penalty can be distinguished from other punishments, including those that are often considered barbaric by modern standards, such as caning. When a person is fined, the thought of being fined may make him think twice about committing an offense. When a person is imprisoned for a crime, it may be argued that the punishment can help to prevent the person from committing the crime again after he is released (although not everyone would be convinced). Even when a criminal is imprisoned for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole, confining him to a prison ensures that he will no longer be able to commit crimes outside the boundaries of the given space.) When someone is caned, it is possible to claim that the severity of the punishment serves to prevent the person who is being punished from committing the same crime, even though not everyone is in favor of a punishment that inflicts bodily pain, preferring what they call rehabilitation. In these instances, laws and regulations are violated and punishments can be rationalized on the basis that their enforcement deter transgressors from repeating what they are not supposed to do. However, linking deterrence to the death penalty is somewhat different. The other punishments mentioned are understood as a way of preventing someone from transgressing again, however effective or ineffective they are: “I punish you so you will not do it again.” The usual punishment seeks to regulate the future behavior of transgressing parties under the assumption that they will be able to choose whether to repeat an act of transgression. This does not apply to the death penalty which is more properly characterized as “I punish you and you cannot do it again.” (Note that I am not phrasing it as “I punish you so that you cannot do it again.”) The death penalty is the only punishment that absolutely prevents the punished from committing crimes again. It is, thus, not supposed to deter the punished from committing the crime again, but, as the reasoning goes, to deter everyone else from committing a particular crime.

In Singapore (though not necessarily only in Singapore), there is another possible distinction between certain instances of the death penalty as it is justified by the notion of deterrence and other punishments. If a person is caned for vandalizing private property for example, the harm on others can easily be determined or observed. A person can be sentenced to death for being in possession of drugs or firearms. Any harm to self or to others does not have to be legally proven. In fact, it makes no difference even if it is proven beyond all doubt that no harm has been inflicted and no intention to engage in an act that could harm anyone was present when a person is caught in possession of drugs. Put next to punishments for other crimes, there is a sense that it is a punishment that is massively disproportionate in severity. Rape somebody and you will be punished by imprisonment and caning. Be caught in possession of drugs and you have to be killed even though any potential harm of the drugs on others has been prevented by your arrest. Possession can be equated to trafficking in a incredible leap of logic that can perhaps only be understood by lawmakers who do the right thing. If we imagine someone who is caught in possession of and actually has the intention to sell a drug, but it is his first and only time doing so, surely the person cannot have harmed anyone with drugs? It does not matter though. He has to die. And it is the right thing to do to kill him. People can be punished with what is arguably the most severe punishment of all without having effected any harm. But, once again, in a perverse twist of governmentality, the discourse of deterrence shifts from the punished to everyone else that is not punished. No harm might have been done directly or indirectly by he who is punished, but let us kill him to prevent others from causing potential harm.

It would appear that the death penalty, or at least as it is articulated via the discourse of deterrence, concerns itself more with those who do not die than with those who do. It is unpopular with those who do not believe in taking away lives from crimes committed. Those who who can but decide not abolish it say that it is the right thing to do. It is to protect the living. It is perhaps more so to regulate the behavior of the living. With doing the right thing being paramount and sacrosanct, every opinion for or against the death penalty is obliged to be presented as the singular right answer. I think so therefore it is right. And the signature of power of those who are committed to do right and be right: I think therefore it is.

Perhaps we should be reminded that no one has to be right and the ethics of being right is questionable. Perhaps we can take away lives and do the right thing (and let us remember that we usually speak of the right thing to do when it has the greatest potential to be wrong), but do we need to?

We know for a fact that the death penalty deterrence is never total deterrence in the sense that, there will always be more people committing crimes and being sentenced to death. The effectiveness of deterrence via the death penalty may be questionable, but few would claim that it does not work at all. Putting aside the tactics of deterring crime aside, let examine deterrence simply as an intended effect in relation to the death penalty. Deterrence works on the basis of the death penalty’s iterability. The death sentence can be pronounced and performed again and again, each time (of course) on a different individual. It is not simply the potential of the death penalty that deters. Rather, each time the death sentence is pronounced on a person, everyone else is reminded not to commit the given crime. Each time someone is hanged, each time the event is circulated via the media, the effect of deterrence is intensified by drilling it deeper into public consciousness. In this sense, deterrence cannot be absolute for if it were absolute, no one would commit crimes that are punishable by death. It is not just that, semantically, deterrence is not absolute (as we can only deter and there is no way we can prevent everyone from committing a certain crime ever), but also that if any given technique of deterrence does not fail at least occasionally, the notion of deterrence will fall apart. We arrive at an aporia: deterrence has to fail in order for it to work.

From another perspective, we see that a person is punished by death—ostensibly for the benefit of everyone else—in each instance of deterrence’s failure that is uncovered. Those punished by death serve as proxies through which the state reaches everyone else (including even those who are usually beyond its reach, such as foreigners), reminding them not to commit crimes whilst patiently waiting for them to do so. When they do so, they are punished. Even if the death penalty is not performed with utmost transparency, any aura of secrecy invites scrutiny. Various instances of capital punishment reach the people through the press, and these often involve individuals (known as murderers) who trespass on the sacred domain of death orchestration. There are even hushed avenues for us to call for the abolition of capital punishment, which themselves sustain attention on the death penalty. The orchestration of death is a sacred domain. Only the state can decide to take away a life or allow a deliberate act to end a life (as in the case of euthanasia). It is criminal for anyone else to consciously take away a life, even one’s own. The power to orchestrate death has to remain one in order to sustain the regulatory functions it serves on those who are living. It is not just a matter of preventing them from committing the same crimes. It generates public discourse, inviting people to debate about it. It is ultimately a signifier of the state’s hold over those who come within the reaches of its jurisdiction. The death penalty reminds the living of their life penalty, their lifelong penalty.

Epilogue of Errors

Those who depend on being right and are also trapped by the impulse and compulsion to be right. If the status quo is a state of right things being done, doing the right thing becomes an impediment to change for he who changes his mind opens himself to the question of whether he has been wrong all along. Change is not impossible but it is necessarily rare. Leaders who do the right things must take great pains to prove that they are not wrong when they do change their minds. Like cults generating a grand theory of why doomsday has been deferred, they must convince their followers that they have always been right and are right to change. Rather ironically, through such an exercise. doomsday cult leaders become more convinced than their followers that they are right. They buy what they sell.

The death penalty may not be right. But until the cult of leaders who do right decide that it is necessary to fabricate a new telos whilst whilst sitting on contradictions, change is unlikely. And it is not a big deal. The death penalty is a signifier and intensifier of a power of which they are very much a part to begin with. It is then left to those who do not have to be right to decide to shatter their leaders’ prerogative to be right.

[I am incomprehensible?] The reliance on others to make sense for you ensures your perpetual oppression. [Wrong?] Start imagining a space that away from (even if not totally) the rational absolute rights/wrongs from which you have learned to derive intense pleasure. Please. [Be constructive?] I am not keen on building a well around myself and sealing the exit with my own hands.

The Importance of Being Bitchy

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.

24 Hours to Remember

Who’s afraid of the 24 hours?

Anyone who belittles the p65 people should see Fredric Fanthome’s defense of the 24 hours of political silence prior to Election Day:

One argument [against the rule] being touted is that the fact that political broadcasts and news reports are allowed is unfair as the media is “in the hands of the government”. Well, if we assume that is the case, then by the same measure, the population will disregard anything the media puts out in that period, and moreover, it would actually be incensed by any blatant misuse of the media – and hence vote against the PAP rather than for it.

An excellent piece of rhetoric that simply works in Singapore. Because too many Singaporeans are not  as the above argument implies they are.

I have never seen anyone else take every Singaporean (or every person of any other nationality for that matter) to be so sophisticated that s/he is able to distill subtle political messages from seemingly innocuous news coverage, and attribute it to governmental control over the media, and hence vote against the PAP. (Hey, is that last bit not a tad irrational?) If  Singaporeans were so sophisticated, Fanthome should not even be attempting such a defense. And he should be able to come up with a more sophisticated defense. If Singaporeans are so sophisticated, they would also be discerning during the nine or more days of rallying by various political parties and would not need a day to cool down and think rationally, so maybe the new rule should be ditched.

But perhaps the 24 hours does not matter. Or it need not. It is not the 24 hours of virtual silence from political parties, but what the people have been told to do that matters.

As a general observation, whenever the PAP appeals to rationality, it is merely telling people to think silly. It is telling people not to be political. For the PAP can only thrive when Singaporeans are completely politicized by having their political nature suppressed. Be rational: forget about all those little inconveniences of your existence and compromise in the PAP’s favor for you know not what might befall you if the PAP does not have your favor. If you fail to persuade yourself to generate reluctant complicity with the PAP, Dr-acula Chee might appear at midnight and suck 7% of your blood and murder your domestic worker because she is not local, the ghost of Jeyaretnam might pay you a minimum wage and cause you to lose your job. Low Thia Kiang might defile your potential saviors, and Chiam See Tong devalue your expensive HDB flat. Heaven’s wrath will send floods to your doorstep and drown your car together with your COE. (Freak floods for freak election results, anyone?)

Are we being told to be rational or being told to fear? One cheap tactic that always works in horror films: get the audience to scare themselves; it is the best solution when the filmmaker only has puerile antics that will not really scare people. Let people scare themselves silly. And silly is the key word.

When we are being told to be rational, we are being told to be irrational and everyone should understand the rationality of this seemingly irrational statement.

24 hours to be irrational. 24 hours to scare ourselves. But we can always choose how we want to be (ir)rational.

Let it be a day of memory.

Remember the expensive people who tell us to be cheaper.

Remember who spoiled our Mee Siam with cockles.

Remember who tells us not to politicize lifts but try to buy our votes with lifts.

Remember the Frankenstein behind every oppositional monster spun with the demonic threads of a crippled press.

Remember who promised to help the poor and created a lot of poor people needing help.

Remember the Public Order Act that does not allow you to show your cancerous dissent alone.

Remember more, more than I can.

Remember who forced 24 hours down your throat, telling you to remember.

Remember to remind others to remember.

Remember the 24 hours. Remember during the 24 hours.

Never forget (yourself).

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