Singapore as a Slum

Working Title: Definitions of Slum: A Free Semantics Lesson for the PAP and Singaporeans

“My answer to Mr Low Thia Khiang is yes, it (Hougang) has become a slum. The word slum means downgrading” (PAP’s Eric Low)

Dear Eric, as far as I know when you say that Hougang has “become a slum,” you are using the word “slum” as a noun. Why, then, are you defining it as a verb, saying that it “means downgrading.”

To be fair, Molly should not impose her exacting standards on jittery politicians who are so anxious to win votes for their parties that they might have left their sanity somewhere even if they are no longer standing for elections. Let’s assume that Eric was first using the word as a noun and then using it as a verb.

As a verb, however, the word “slum” does not really mean “to downgrade”—at least not in the sense of downgrading an estate. It means “to spend time with the lower classes.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “slum” as a verb means

to visit slums especially out of curiosity; broadly : to go somewhere or do something that might be considered beneath one’s station

If Eric had meant to use the word as a verb and he thought that it meant downgrading, perhaps what he thinks is that he is downgrading every time he visits the slums? In other words, if he thinks he has been slumming whenever he goes to Hougang, perhaps what is revealed is simply his view of the people in Hougang.

But let’s assume that Eric was just being careless in his speech. Let’s just look at the meaning of the word slum according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, dirty run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization

Just for fun, let’s see how many of the characteristics of a slum apply to Singapore as a whole, and not just to opposition wards. Molly shall do a subjective checklist.

Densely populated urban area: tick. That applies to Singapore.

Crowding: tick. It’s crowded everywhere I go. Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong did not cause this, I believe.

Poverty: tick. I don’t think the two opposition MPs in the Parliament caused this.

Dirty housing: tick? I remember reports of rubbish in Ang Moh Kio and Kim Keat. No, these are not opposition wards.

Run down facilities: tick? Look at Mr. Wang’s posts and photos of our MRT stations here and here. No, MRT stations are not run by those terrible opposition politicians.

Social Disorganization: probably not. We don’t even have the luxury of disorganization. We are too organized and pigeon-holed into racial and other categories.

Oh my gosh! If we were to imagine that a slum need not be an isolated, poorly maintained area occupied by poor people, could Singapore already be considered a cosmetically polished slum that is rotting at its core under the PAP government? Under the tender care of the PAP, Singapore has perhaps evolved into a prototype of a postmodern slum that is geographically dispersed, everywhere but nowhere in particular, with some areas being falsely painted with an artificial shimmer to generate an impression of prosperity which belies and represses the sense of actual destitution. The demarcation of opposition wards as slums, then, is merely a political fabrication meant to create a hologram of an inferior Other in order to sustain the fiction of the affluent self. If we could just reject this fiction for its sheer fictionality, the horror at the core of PAP ideology will be crystal-clear.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m no English major, but I would have thought that even if he meant ‘slum’ as a verb he should have at least matched the tenses and said, “slumming means downgrading,” And it sounds more melodious to the ear when taken with the prior sentence, “it has become a slum,” Do I hear someone counting O-levels in the background?

  2. […] with facts, counter darkness with light – TOC: Your vote is secret, don’t be afraid – Molitics: Singapore as a Slum – Blogging for Myself: Lim Hng Kiang: Limits on foreign workers will crimp growth – Thoughts of a […]

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