The Cultivation of Infantilism and the Rise of Super Establishment Trolls

Working Title: Gahmen Wants Cock (Code of Conduct Kept)

Molly shall, first of all, start with a digression (though she technically cannot digress until she has actually started on a topic) and seek everyone’s pardon for doing so. She has not been following the news very intently of late, but someone told her that a certain Minister Yacock (Ya Ya/cocky and full of cock, the rumors go, but that could refer to practically any PAP politician I have in mind) has been getting a lot of flak for wanting people to behave properly. Being the bimbo that she is, Molly has not even heard of Yacock before. A legendary hero that is able to get into trouble for wanting people to behave themselves is probably born just once every fifty years or more and it is appalling that Molly is unable to find out more information about him. It is a pity that Molly does not have more information about the enigma. Imagine Molly joining the fray and writing a post entitled “Yacock, I Blast Him” instead of having references to some obscure post-fetal life form!

Admittedly, the above digression is utterly frivolous and tasteless. Bloggers writing about politics ought to be more serious and poised, many a wise reader will surely maintain. But both frivolity and tastelessness have been seriously maligned and it is about time we stop depriving them of their right to life.

But before Molly gets carried away by her digressive cyber-fantasies, she should watch her conduct and quickly say what she has to say. She shall start with Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, though the issue at its crux by no means starts or ends with him. For quite a period of time, Yaacob kept talking about establishing an online code of conduct, causing netizens to lambast him for failing to understand the nature of the Internet. At the same time, there were speculations that the government was intending to extend its stifling restrictions on free expression to the Internet. Then, for a couple of weeks, netizens thought he had given up because he claimed that the government was not intending to clamp down on the Internet, though he did not at any point contradict himself on the issue. Then quite suddenly, he brought up the issue again, getting on the nerves of netizens who disagreed with him. The government soon announced the formation of a Media Literacy Council (MLC), and netizens now seem to have gained irony as an ally, given that the very people who appear to lack media literacy are the ones creating the MLC for others.

Surely those who are protesting against Yaacob’s ideas and the formation of the MLC are overreacting? If a code of conduct is of any real threat to free expression, it probably has to be legally-binding and no such thing is being created. The formation of the MLC may seem like a big waste of the money we give to IRAS every year, but it can hardly do any harm if every other netizen seems to be against it. For years, the PAP government has taken pride in maintaining a “light touch” on the Internet, resisting the impulse to smother and rape that is in its true nature. It is not as though Molly is suddenly going to be arrested for violating the sacrosanct rules of netiquette after posting this article online—well, perhaps she could be arrested, but it will not be because of the MLC. Yaacob’s ideas and the MLC are indeed disturbing, but they are merely symptoms of how Singapore is systemically being infantilized by political leaders who have had too much power for far too long.

To be sure, the PAP does want a “bottom-up” approach to Internet regulation, but it wants to create the bottom in its image. Post-2011, the PAP knows that a top-down approach will not make it any more appealing to the population that is increasingly inclined to vote for the opposition during elections. It knows, but it is unable to transcend itself. It is aware that its authoritarianism is causing it to lose support, but it is also aware that democratizing Singapore could also put the party known for its illustrious history of authoritarianism in a precarious position. The only way to allow Singapore to be democratic without the PAP losing power eventually is to make all citizens mini-PAPies; this way, Singapore can be the most democratic country on earth and the PAP will still remain in power forever.

The effect of many of the PAP’s policies is to interpellate Singaporeans as infantile citizens, whether there is a conscious intention to do so when policies are being formulated. The less money one has, the more vulnerable one is to the PAP’s infantilizing policies. There is neither minimum wage nor unemployment benefit, but there is Workfare and when a person sinks into the quicksand of poverty, he beg his kind PAP MP to pull him out an inch or two with food vouchers just so that he does not die, but can continue struggling. The impression given to the people is that it is not the state with a permanent system outlasting different governments that helps people, but the PAP that does. The people have to keep running to the PAP like the child who with little pocket money has to keep running to his parents for more. Like the child, we had better behave ourselves lest our pocket money is withheld. In the realm of education, we have the dubious but inescapable National Education through which we learn to see Singapore with the PAP’s eyes. We are supposed to believe that babies come from rocks if Papa PAP so tells us. It may not even matter whether we allow ourselves to become whatever our political leaders want us to become. We are either inevitably positioned as obedient, praiseworthy kids or as rebellious, uncooperative teenagers, but never as truly autonomous individuals.

We are thus always told what is good for us, and it is in this context that the formation of the MLC is disturbing. It is supposed to “review approaches such as advocating best practices and shared values to create a more participatory and responsible cyberspace culture.” The good reputation of values has long been tarnished by the PAP for values are not invariably something that compels us to uphold the status quo as favored by the PAP. The references to participation and responsibility are no less familiar to us. Everyone knows by now that to participate (and be “active citizens”, for instance) means that we do things that will bring a smile to the PAP. Participative citizenship should, of course, not involve things like challenging the courts to determine if the prime minister has the discretion to delay the holding of by-elections indefinitely when an MP leaves office. It is also somehow not responsible if you blog like Molly Meek because being responsible means that you need to “balance” any criticism of the PAP with praise and phrase the criticism as mildly as possible. While the constantly recycled vocabulary of PAP-speak induces nausea, unsavory intents lurk behind lofty rationalizations.

Naturally, the infantilization goes beyond policy-making. The PAP also uses baby-talk with us (and perhaps others—it becomes a habit), in the way they keep resorting to silly analogies and puerile language that are nothing but an insult to adult intelligence. The current generation of PAP ministers seem to think that baby-talk is the best way to engage the people, but in attempting to stoop to the level of those standing on the ground, they end up burying their heads several feet below the ground because have misgauged how low the ground is. One may recall the prime minister’s mee siam mai hum fiasco, Chan Chun Sing’s chye tow kuey nonsense, and how being poor in Singapore is “no fun.” More recently, the prime minister himself has kindly warned us that food prices may rise—the price of our soya bean drink may rise by 5 cents according to him, as though anything really goes up by just 5 cents anymore:

So when you buy tao huay zhui, I think you have to be prepared maybe it’ll cost you five cents more. When you have ice-kachang, maybe there will be less jagung (Malay for sweet corn) in the ice kachang. (Source)

Molly is beginning to wonder if they have a fetish for throwing in dialect terms randomly when they speak to us or if they think we actually have a problem understanding them if they simply speak in plain English.

At least during Kuan Yew’s time as a prime minister, his rhetoric may have been hot air, but it was a blast of hot air compared to the feeble lukewarm farts that the current PAP leaders are letting out daily, much to our discomfort. When the prime minister proceeds to reassure us about food prices, he says, “But I think as long as the Singapore economy is doing well and as long as we have resources, we will deal with this.”

Oh yeah? Then why are the prices still going to rise when our wages remain competitive with sweat-shop workers’ in developing countries? Why don’t you just shut up?

When Yaacob says that the “bottom-up” approach to the code of conduct online “is open to all” and that “netizens must take charge,” he is really telling us, his little kids, that it is time for us all to grow up and make decisions. To be more precise, we must all mature according to what he and his fellow power-holders consider as maturity. That’s why the MLC is formed by the top despite the claim that the code of conduct must come from the bottom. It’s the political equivalent of a parent telling a child, “You are old enough to know how to behave yourself.” The latently threatening tone indicates that expectations are clearly already in place. We simply cannot grow up any way we want.

Of course, Yaacob is not as stupid as to really think that netizens are going to buy it all. He is well aware of the fact that netizens have objected to his idea, and will continue to object to it. He must be equally aware of how a code of conduct can easily be violated with virtually no repercussions unless the violators happen to have broken the law as well. He probably also knows that just because the PAP wants to embark on social engineering, it does not mean that its efforts will be successful. Assuming that the government is indeed trying to achieve something through the MLC and the code of conduct, the question we have left is why the government is still trying to do it.

We should first note how disingenuous it is for Yaacob to give the impression that the code of conduct is going to be enforced bottom-up, as though it is a more palatable alternative to having laws to govern online expression. This is totally untrue for there are already laws that circumscribe what we can say and do online. Bloggers can be charged with sedition, defamation, contempt of court and whatever else they can be charged with for saying something offline. Politicians are restricted in terms of what they can post online on “cooling off day”—unless perhaps they belong to the ilk of a certain Ms Denise He. There is no need for any more repressive laws to be enacted because there are already enough laws to fix the hapless irresponsible blogger. The code of conduct and the efforts of the MLC will not reinforce self-censorship and the climate of fear much further, if any further at all.

But while many netizens can and will try continue with their “irresponsible” behavior, what they potentially face are discursive roadblocks. Put your point across strongly and the PAP can wave its thick bible of netiquette at you, derailing any potential arguments on important issues. The mainstream media will be eager to jump in and help out their masters. Those people it employs to offer a “balanced” perspective online and contradict PAP detractors can use the bible in the same way, perhaps with greater freedom. Those that the PAP manages to engineer into subservience, however limited in numbers this group of people may be, will also wave the bible as some sort of divine authority. The only issue that remains for discussion is whether we behave ourselves. There is only so much one can do and so far ideas can be articulated when they are constantly frustrated by super establishment trolls.

Of course the paragraph above is only a dystopian vision of things to come. It does not represent reality. After all, we can always put across our points mildly, constructively and tactfully. Everyone will be sedate and peace-loving. May the PAP be the Valium of the masses!

And may kittens be allowed to migrate to where they are allowed to be the bitches that they are.


*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to give trolling a bad name. Trolls of the world, please do not feel offended unless you belong to the PAP camp.


The Xenophobic Discourse of Integration

Singapore is always in a frenzied search for an other in order to maintain an increasingly illusory sense of self. The only disagreements are only about where the other is located.

By all appearances, xenophobia has never been more rife in Singapore, as exemplified by certain netizens who are able to link every problem to the presence of foreigners with the creativity that Singaporeans have long been maligned of lacking. We know very well that xenophobia has surfaced because of the PAP’s policies that have allowed large numbers of foreigners (or people who until quite recently were non-Singaporeans)—there is neither any point in denying this nor any use in harping on it except in a critique of public policy. The potential for xenophobia, nevertheless, exists even if the PAP had not chanced upon the brilliant idea of bringing in large numbers of foreigners for the creation of addictive economic statistics of such unrivalled pulchritude that benefits the image of Singapore without benefiting the country itself. In other words, it must have been possible for many Singaporeans to manifest xenophobic behavior even before it is manifested. In an alternative reality where the PAP has implemented a closed-door, the same potential for xenophobia is present even if it does not result in any particular behaviors that would prove its presence. In another alternative reality where the potential is non-existent, xenophobia will not be manifested even with the current immigration policies for one could always direct one’s antagonism at the PAP’s policies and not at foreigners or new citizens. From what I see, the PAP ought to be thankful for xenophobia since it has provided the party with a thick buffer of imported scapegoats of premium quality.

To understand the xenophobia that we now see, we have to look to its cousin that is structured by race rather than by nationality. One of the greatest pet topics of the PAP is racial harmony, which is predicated on the recognition of racial differences. The discourse of racial harmony is self-perpetuating. Like the cloud in the sky that remains meaningless until you say that it looks like the face of the devil you have never met, race will only mean something when people are taught to see it. The emphasis on racial harmony provides the teacher who ensures that race is always be in the field of vision to be managed like every other aspect of Singaporean society. The need to put aside differences that are supposed to be coded by race is simultaneously emphasized with the need to view race as a threat. In short, the entire discourse of racial harmony can only make sense if one were in complicity with what is essentially xenophobic. It is just that the centre of alterity is simply shifted from a perceived racial group to the notion of racial disharmony itself. We learn to make friends with those around us because they are potentially dangerous enemies, not because we actually inclined to do so because of certain affinities.

Singaporeans are thus well trained to recognize difference even if it is simply for the purpose of harmony. But things do not always go according to plan. Even though racial disharmony has traditionally been tame/tamed in Singapore, there is always so much to encourage xenophobia that is not coded by race. The superiority of the Singaporean things that we hate is often illustrated by comparison to other countries. We are told, for instance, that if we do not vote for the PAP to lord over us with its nonsense, our women would become maids in other countries (our men will, presumably, not even be able to go overseas because of their national service obligations which must surely be an impetus for gender disharmony, to use PAPspeak). When they encounter such a message, most Singaporeans have the ability to infer that countries with women going overseas to become maids are backward and inferior. (For why else would we not want the same for Singaporean women?) We are also told that we have Asian values, and so the abominable aspects of Western democracy, such as actually having democracy, are unthinkable. The siege mentality that is inculcated by national education and aggressive propaganda on the necessity of military defense—or rather, “total defense” (as though we are under all imaginable sorts of threats)—further sharpen the xenophobic acumen of Singaporeans, as people learn to look at all that is not Singaporean with fear.

The PAP is Singapore’s true leader where xenophobia is concerned, albeit its brand of xenophobia is highly peace-loving. (It is not true that the xenophobic are always out to stir trouble. To make such an assumption is to be guilty of a severe case of meta-xenophobia.) Why else would our Prime Minister be able to perceive the matter of one family wanting to hold a birthday celebration at the same place as another family is holding a funeral as one related to race? Perhaps the world’s most highly paid prime minister truly has exceptional insights into quotidian affairs. Or perhaps I am just too radically displaced from the PAP mindset to imagine how the matter is related to race.

These days, one could possibly derive some pleasure from imagining PAP ministers bawling, knees wobbling, as they appeal to Singaporeans to “integrate” with foreigners and new citizens. Unfortunately, the PAP’s notion of integration itself is xenophobic in its failure to accept difference. It is just that the authorities would prefer Singaporean xenophobes to convert and believe in the god of peaceable xenophobia instead of worshipping the god of war-like xenophobia. The PAP’s notion of equality is to apply its techniques of social engineering on everyone. It is presumptuous enough to define what it means to be Singaporean, making claims about Singaporean values. The PAP wants new citizens to fit into its vision of what Singaporeans are like. Prospective citizens are made to go through programs such as the “National Education Experience Programme” and a “Naturalisation and Integration Journey” where they would be fed the PAP’s version of Singaporean history, its definition of social norms and values. PAP politicians are speaking in agreement about this nonsense. PM Lee himself says: “The new arrivals should embrace the Singapore values and norms, and try to fit in as Singaporeans; Singaporeans can encourage the new ones to integrate and help the new ones to fit in.” If only everyone could work together to make the PAP’s hallucinations a reality! Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean speaks in an uncannily similar way: “Quite naturally, we expect that our new immigrants should adapt to our values and norms, and we get upset if they have not yet done so.” Unfortunately for the PAP, the more immigrants fit into the PAP’s definition of Singaporeaness (in fact, they simply need to be perceived as being so), the more susceptible they are to the vocal group of people who are unable to accept immigrants because the PAP’s schema is anathema to this group of people.

To expect immigrants to become the same, and to expect “old” Singaporeans to help immigrants become the same is to assume that anyone who is different cannot fit in. It is ridiculous because we can never expect new immigrants to become the same as Singaporeans, especially since Singaporeans are not the same to begin with. There is also a chasm between the PAP’s and many Singaporeans’ understanding of what it means to be the same as Singaporeans, making it impossible for new citizens to integrate in a way that satisfies both the PAP and the people. The deepest form of xenophobia in Singapore stems from the assumption that difference will inevitably result in social instability and the state’s impulse to keep emphasizing the difference while attempting to engineer old and new citizens according to the same ridiculous PAP-prescribed mould.

The apparent xenophobia we see in some Singaporeans would likely have remained latent if immigration had really brought about the economic benefits that the PAP thinks it would. Even if the PAP’s dream of integration is fulfilled by some social engineering miracle, the xenophobes that have been worrying the PAP will not be appeased simply because these people are not concerned about whether new citizens have integrated, but about how their own lives have been adversely affected by these newcomers, some of whom are just as xenophobic.

It may at first seem ridiculous that Singapore’s new citizens would be xenophobic. After all, they are the ones who choose to settle down in Singapore and if they do not like it here, they would not have made the decision, would they? We must remember, then, that Singapore’s import of foreigners is exploitative in nature. The PAP has opened Singapore’s doors to foreigners because some of them bring in lots of money, because others provide cheap labor and they supposedly help to keep Singaporeans competitive. (Yes, let us have a competition to see who can be better exploited and more disempowered. Thanks, PAP.) Foreigners are allowed to come because the PAP thinks they would bring about some economic benefit. Those who come to Singapore are likely to be aware of this, and they can only return the favor.

For a start, Singapore could stop trying to cultivate national identity via the production of otherness. But could those currently in power even imagine anything else?

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