Noisy Singaporeans & Japanese Nation-Building Techniques

We are getting more and more tips on how to be a real nation from ministers post their prime (by which I mean they have job titles post-Prime Ministership). Kuan Yew had already told us that Singaporeans had to be willing to die for one another before it could be a nation. Now Goh Chok Tong tells us that nation building involves being stoic in the face of adversities. No, actually that’s Molly’s way of beautifying it for him. He was simply rehasing old rhetoric about Singaporeans being too whiny for the PAP to love. Like most other PAP politicians, he seems to think that when the government gives Singaporeans lemons, Singaporeans ought to swallow them whole instead of asking for water with which to dilute the juice. Probably because it’s unreasonable.

Very cleverly, Goh says:

How many of you followed the latest tragic events in Japan with the tsunami…and then put into context our floods in Singapore against that kind of disaster.

I am not saying we shouldn’t do anything about the flood [sic]. But the amount of noise you made with just sporadic flood [sic] compared to the Japanese. [sic] I saw them on TV. Very stoic looking. You don’t see them crying. This has happened, just get on, that’s the kind of spirit you want to have and you call it nation building. (ChannelNewasia)

It is very clever because few other politicians can get away with his rhetorical maneuver of taking something out of context and putting it in a different context but claiming that he is putting things in context. And the few politicians in the world who can get away with it usually do not even bother to do it. I wish he had pulled off the same trick last year after the passing of Kwa Geok Choo, the wife of Kuan Yew. Imagine how interesting it would have been for him to tell Kuan Yew that he should not be grieving over the death of his wife because politicians elsewhere in the world remain calm even when thousands of people have died in naturaldisasters. Like how George Bush supposedly continued with his classroom visit after learning about the September 11 attacks. So what’s the big deal with one person’s death?

Nevertheless, let’s put things into context by comparison with the Japanese. Perhaps we should remember how Shoichi Nakagawa, who was once the Japanese Finance Minister, resigned in 2009 after he was said to be drunk during the G7 meeting even though he had maintained that he had merely overdosed on cold medication. We should remember also how Yukio Hatoyama, one-time Prime Minister of Japan, resigned last year for not being able to fulfill a campaign promise. As a comparison (since Goh likes to compare), Singaporeans may recall how Wong Kan Seng did not see it fitting to resign after the Mas Selamat escape. Singaporeans will also do well to recall all the promises of political openness that politicians have made or how they have pledged to improve the lives of Singaporeans—and see if every single promise has been fulfilled. If not, has any minister resigned as a result? Perhaps I’m delusional, but I’m under the impression that someone said something about acheiving the Swiss standard of living for Singaporeans but ended up giving us a top-in-the-world cost of living instead. Someone must have promised to let a hundred flowers bloom only to fertilize the soil with the Public Order Act and absurd amendments to the Films Act amongst other acts. Even post-World War II Hiroshima was more conducive for flowers to bloom.

I should not not say too much about ghoulish rhetorical moves lest I get maligned of contributing to noise pollution. But since Goh wants us to learn from the Japanese and how they react to the less pleasant things in life, I hope to help Singaporeans find ways please him. After some Internet research, I found a few pictures of Japanese people that Singaporeans might learn valuable lessons from.


How inspiring.

Now, don’t arrest me for inciting actions that displease authoritarian governments. I’m not. I’m just putting things in context and trying to imagine how Singaporeans could follow Goh Chok Tong’s call to learn from the Japanese. Perhaps when would have successfully built a nation when I no longer need to look beyond Singapore for such pictures.

Goh’s remarks about noisy Singaporeans was really made to show why Singaporeans need to be less dependent on the government. In other words, it is one of those silly balancing acts that Singaporean government officials execute whenver they announce some benefit for Singaporeans. When any one-time benefit is given, Singaporeans will reminded not to develop the mythical “crutch mentality” and to rely on themselves. The PAP wants our votes and decides to give us some one-time spare change instead of implmenting permanent policies that would free us from praying for governmental generosity all the time. We are always reminded by the PAP to be self-reliant lest the wretched yearning for assistance morphs into  a grostesquely unreasonable demand for the government to take care of the people.

On the other hand, we can always remind ourselves that the PAP will never implement any permanent measures to truly benefit under-privileged Singaporeans because such measures are likely to stay even if other political parties are given the majority vote during the General Election. It is in the PAP government’s interest to have Singaporeans constantly needing the spare change that it dispenses as and when it deigns to do so. Election goodies, whether their existence is acknowledged or not, can show Singaporeans precisely what baddies they are subject to. If the PAP government has done its job well, they would not be left wondering and hoping every year that someone would try to buy their votes or show their generosity. The only way to modify the PAP’s behavior is by voting for opposition parties.

It is not that the PAP doesn’t want Singaporeans to be reliant. It just doesn’t want Singaporeans to insist on a government that can be relied on.

Sure, Singaporeans can be less reliant on the government. When it floods, Singaporeans should take the initiative to investigate the causes, clear the drainage system and enhance it. Since the Japanese do not blame their government for natural phenomena like earthquakes and tsunamis over which it has no control, we can outdo them by not blaming our PAP leaders for anything even if it is within their powers to control. This is nation building. Even if the dignity of the citizens is the price to pay, so what?

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25 Responses

  1. Remember LKY say no amount of engineering can be done to solve our flooding problems. If a greater-than-S$3M-a-year salaried Mentor can have that type of attitude, how can GCT not expect Singaporeans to be whiny. It’s just plain too opportunistic for GCT to even talk about a tsunami.

    He should probably have told LKY off not to have that kind of attitude but I presumed he has no balls.

    • He should at least have set an example by taking things stoically, such as by not suing Chee Soon Juan for defamation when the latter asked “Where’s the money?” After all, Japanese ministers don’t do that.

  2. Good one! Everything thing here seems to be at the whim and fancy (and convenience) of the power-mongers. Many a Japanese minister has quit over relative tame things like tainited milk; perhaps our ministers can take their own advice and be ‘honourable’ enough to commit metaphoric hara-kiri when they screw up, like the Japanese. And following the examples of Japanese ministers (who run the 3rd largest economy in the world), I wonder how much they are paid vis-a-vis ours?

    • I don’t know. I think the Japanese PM probably earns 10-15 times more than our own. If you don’t convert the yen to S$.

  3. Maybe our president should be taught to sit, roll over and stick out his tongue before he is handed his $900k pay increment. Now we won’t want him to develop a crutch mentality and expect undeserved pay rise all the time, would we? Scarli, he doesn’t want to retire how?

    • The price of rubber must have gone up drastically. Now the designer rubber stamp is so much more expensive than ever.

      • OMG, I LOVE IT! This is too funny! I was laughing so hard reading your replies till I couldn’t see the rest of the comments! I promise I will have my handkerchief ready the next time…

  4. […] – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: SM Goh: Singaporeans are too dependent on govt… – Molitics: Noisy Singaporeans & Japanese Nation-Building Techniques – Singapore Recalcitrant: The Comic Utterrance of a Senior Minister – Icarus Flew Too High: The […]

  5. You should seriously send this to ST Forum to be posted on 154th’s paper

  6. our world’s most expensive president of 4$M ++ needs the 890K increment just to get him out of bed…so that he can go about his chores, shaking hands, cutting ribbons and posing for photos.

    i hope LKY takes over as the next President and create a vice President position for Ah Loong.
    It will make LKY’s career absolutely complete, from Opp leader to PM to SM to MM and finally President.

    ps: something for Goh CT to aim for as well, i.e to become President one day. except the possibility that Mrs Goh being the first lady may proclaim 4$M is peanuts.

  7. I thought this government lead on the people here to get their pay checks…

    You mean the government is talking about itself having a “crutch mentality” now….

    We pay and also up-keep this government.

    What the hell is Mr Goh (Super Prime Minister) now babbling about?

    Strange and illogical.

    • It’s not talking about itself having a crutch mentality. Though I do think it has one. It thinks it’s entitled to crutches made of pure gold and encrusted with rubies. Really, ministers need to be self-reliant on not just ask to be paid more and more.

  8. a well written piece.

  9. “Politics consists in reconfiguring the distribution of the sensible which defines the common of a community, to introduce into it new subjects and objects, to render visible what had not been, and to make heard as speakers those who had been perceived as mere noisy animals. This work involved in creating dissensus informs an aesthetics of politics that operates at a complete remove from the forms of staging power and mass mobilization which Benjamin referred to as the ‘aestheticization of politics’.”
    – Jacques Ranciere, _Aesthetics and its Discontents_

    When Walter Benjamin writes of the ‘aestheticization of politics’ he refers primarily to the public spectacles mounted by the Fascist regimes in 1930s Europe, especially the National Socialist party in Germany. I cannot help but think of this in relation to the spectacularization of state power in NDP. Could one justifiably invoke comparisons between the two?

    Someone had asked me, why aren’t election rallies by political parties considered equally spectacles of staging power and mass mobilization? He pointed in particular to the widely-circulated photographs taken by Alex Au of the 2006 election rallies of the opposition parties, especially the Workers Party rally in Hougang. I replied that the huge turnout of the election rallies could be considered only a ‘zero-level’ type of event. The significance of the photograph is at a very bare or basic level of dissensus, whose significance to Singaporeans is generally just a little more than ‘mere noise’. For the general consciousness (if we may speak of a public sphere), I’d say the photograph is at the level of phatic communication, a generalised inchoate murmur of unhappiness. It is the task of politics to translate this signal from barely noise into a sensible speech on the commons, things that concern everyone in Singapore. The tightness of the confined spaces in Singapore, not just physical but also social, and the overbearing intrusiveness and presence of the government in Singaporeans’ daily lives, seems to me that there is not much that is not always-already political.

    On a rather disjointed note, it seems to me that the emergence of a number of online websites, in particular TOC, arguably fits what Ranciere calls “reconfiguring the distribution of the sensible” in Singapore’s public sphere. In my opinion your blog could serve much more effectively as part of this political mobilization if there are more people who forward and link to it, for instance via TOC or other frequently visited websites.

    • Perhaps the photograph of the opposition rally is itself part of the spectacle, a testament to PAP dominance. It’s visibility is dependent upon its rarity. While it’s almost a moving image at its most immediate and intimate, we might also be reminded of how it could have been—and should have been—nondescript.

      I have contributed one or two articles to the TOC before but I would prefer to maintain the blog as a personal blog. There is much conspiratorial speculation about sites like TOC and Temasek Review. While I refrain from speculating about their origins, I think it’s important that blogs that are not affiliated to the big group blogs/sites are important in making up for any shortcomings of the bigger sites that may not be inherent to the sites but nevertheless result from the speculations and suspicions about them. I also prefer to preserve a certain level of freedom from the editorial standards of TOC. They are actually fairly liberal, but there are times when I indulge in experimentation—something I deem necessary as a resistance against the excessive rationalization of and in public discourse—and may not fit well into the workings of group blogs.

      I’m thankful for aggregators like Singapore Daily and any word-of-mouth publicity that help the minor “indies” of the blogosphere like mine get readership.

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