Forum Theater: An Farcical Parody

Not only was the “Ask the Prime Minister” TV forum on 24 September a rehash of tired issues addressed with stock replies recycled with renewed idiocy (which apparently is a term that can be used on the Almighty Leaders of Singapore without the backlash of defamation suits), it also exposes the hollowness of the PAP’s Grand Rebranding Movement and its lack of even a pinch of commitment or sincerity to make required fundamental changes both the party and the society it lords over.

Other than the valorization of the LKYian leadership style (an element that has landed the PAP in its plight of increasing political irrelevance) in Hsien Loong’s belief that another Kuan Yew would be ideal for Singapore, the déjà vu-inducing replies made the 2013 TV program seem as if it were rerun of a 2003 program except that the same ideas are articulated in a patently post-2011 style of simulated engagement, with a semblance of the willingness to listen and pay some superficial attention to the severe problems that have been brought about by overpopulation and too much economic growth bringing too few benefits to the general population. Obsolescence is the new relevance.


But the veneer wrapping the same old disrespect for Singapores can hardly conceal the true nature of the PAP’s policies as it becomes increasingly translucent and heads towards unintended self-ridicule. All it can depend on is the blindness and naivety of the electorate (and there is no doubt this is all 2016 prep), which is itself an insulting even if not altogether risky bet.

Blame the people, accuse them with insinuations, tell them that it’s wrong to be too reliant on the government to solve problems, presume that PAP and government will always be synonymous, conspire with pliant and compliant members of the mainstream media that ask questions without ever questioning. Refer, with blatant disregard to the lived experiences of the people, to every policy tweak or measure implemented as though it hasworked. At times, one wonders if Hsien Loong has been possessed by a Singaporean Stephen Colbert:

You can afford a flat, there is no need to worry. Get one, get married, start a family.

Say it enough, and it becomes a norm. Say it enough, and it becomes truth.

Say it too much, and you do yourself in, silly.

Mention work-life balance, and we will be told that there are going to be trade-offs. It’s an irrefutable, immutable truth—life is dangerous for the living. But we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? If we want a slower pace of life, we will sacrifice economic growth altogether. If we say that the government is growing the economy at all costs, it will be denied and the retort will be that we are ignorant of how everyone would suffer. It is as if we would all die if we were to attempt to live a more dignified existence. It is as if every PAP member has attended a meeting during which a list of prescribed responses to such issues was circulated—the PAP politicians sound identical, and when they beg to differ, they sound as if they have been directed to offer difference. Perhaps for the sake of that perverted sense of balance that is always so precious to the PAP. Everything is calculated, orchestrated, but no one will be caught having really deviated.

Work-life balance? No, shut up and continue to lead a zombie-slave’s existence. And remember to look happy while doing it, or else . . .

If we ever dare to challenge the enlightened PAP’s worldview because we don’t have pink lenses through which to examine world, it is because we are ignorant and “very preoccupied with our own problems.” The evidence of our ignorance, ironically, happens to be the state’s prescribed source of information—our newspapers preferred to have on the frontpage reports of the Jem ceiling collapse instead of the mall attack in Kenya. We are so ignorant that we do not know how to be grateful to the PAP for having crafted Singapore into a theater of, for, as the absurd. In an absurd-tragic twist of fate, the deficiencies of the state and its instruments have become the character flaws of the people they seek to manipulate. But no one bats an eyelid simply because the suspension of disbelief works best when we have imbibed the logic supporting the diegesis of this political nightmare, which has supplanted any conceivable reality which must now seem to us anything but realistic.

If we dare to challenge the rhetoric, we will be reminded that we are competing against developing countries like China, India and Vietnam, where the people have more spurs in their hide. To be sure, Hsien Loong did not mention any spur or hide—he is probably capable of repulsive metaphors, but not such sophisticated ones. But he clearly echoes his father, who did tell once us that Singaporeans are not driven or diligent enough and need more spurs. (To be honest, I would prefer to have Wolverine claws, especially when I write about the PAP.) If one had the liberty or audacity to hope, one can only hope that Singaporeans grow enough spurs to spurn the PAP for there’s no better performance indicator in the spur-growing industry. Meanwhile, we have to content ourselves with wondering why Singaporeans are perpetually consigned to competition with the people of the developing world, and why Singapore’s cost of living is never meant to rival Vietnam’s, but the workers’ wages are.

To be sure, workers worldwide face competition and pressure, but some have rights and are empowered by real unions whereas Singaporean workers face competition while wearing corrosive state-supplied apparel such as NS and holding water pistols known as the NTUC. Neither are workers everywhere in the world made to internalize a siege mentality while being permanently relegated to the lower rungs of Maslow’s triangle, prowling around miserably in order guard their few precious grains lest they are gobbled up by their competitors—or their government. This is totally in the interest of the PAP gravitational force, which ensures that everyone remains grounded. Self-actualization is bad for authoritarianism.

Such a governance style may appear to be the perfect vessel for brewing a full-bodied cup of rebellion, but revolt in any form, like all the lost selves of Singapore, never ever gets actualized. For Singapore’s main life-sustaining produce is ideology. As Hsien Loong says in response to a question about building trust between the electorate and the government (i.e. the PAP):

what you do together is critical

Graft the muzzles into the people using living tissue carefully excised from them. If people can’t grow into oppression, grow it into them. This is why the PAP enjoys bandying terms like participation and active citizenry. Initiatives like the Singapore conversation and the TV forum are no more than processes to refine the grafting techniques that have been in practice for decades. They supplement tried-and-tested techniques like The Straits Times, national education (and in fact education itself). The post-2011 modus operandi: implement a superficial or half-hearted measure that supposedly alleviates one of the things that people have been complaining about, advertise it, harp on it ad infinitum, and hope that everyone would believe that the PAP is exercising the political will to truly change things. Ministries spend money on TV ads. The HDB keeps telling us that housing is affordable, and the LTA keeps telling us how many more buses and trains there will be, or how certain roads would be expanded. The PAP has always believed that it has done no wrong and simply needs to convince the unappreciative plebeians to accept what is right. Undeniably, the PAP believes in change post-2011. It’s just that the PAP seeks to change the electorate, not itself.

When it comes to mass manipulation, just telling isn’t all that effective, as Hsien Loong knows. Everyone must be a participant. Just recently, the news that young students are encouraged to make use of taxpayers’ money to promote integration attracted much attention. Such a move is typical, allowing the people to actively produce and indulge in the inane while treating it as a hallmark of social responsibility and maturity. And youths are encouraged to spread the gospel by telling tales (which is to say, by sharing motivational stories about foreigners online). These are merely an insidious ideological opposite of with an identical character to the xenophobic stories one might find in certain sources such as The Real Singapore. When executed with finesse, such initiatives are infantilization-cum-interpellation par excellence.

If we make any more noise, we will be reminded that we should not rely on the government to solve all our problems (vintage vomitus which Hsien Loong did not hesitate to rereregurgitate during the TV-forum). Irrefutable.

There is certainly one problem that Singaporeans can and must solve on their own: the PAP.


Free Speech and What(is)not

# This article first appeared on my Facebook page as a note.

When the minister blocked these anti-singapore bloggers, they cry no freedom of speech . And when they blocked , they say is their rights. [sic where applicable] (Quoted from Fappers)


Not unlike how the PAP pointed fingers at Town Councils managed by the WP when people questioned its transactions with AIM, the mythical PAP IB (which comprises rare specimens of mutant life forms dedicated to furthering the PAP cause, such as the fab fappers) points fingers at others such as The Real Singapore when you question its insane moderation policies.


It is true that there are anti-PAP websites and social media groups such as The Real Singapore that have deleted comments exposing their lack of integrity and banned users who do so. Nevertheless, just because The Real Singapore appears have practiced censorship unncessarily, it does not mean that everyone else not sharing the political views of the pro-PAP groups has done so too. Neither does it mean that the PAP IB has any sound justifications for doing so. And it certainly does not mean that no one is allowed to criticize groups like the fab fappers for indiscriminately deleting reasonable comments.


To be sure, there remains the question of why anyone (Molly, for instance) would harp on the censorship practices of the fab fappers instead of on the same behavior on the part of TRS. The reason can be rather straightforward—one is more likely to comment on what one is affected by, so if I do not read TRS posts and see comment deletions or if my comments have not been deleted by its administrators, then I am less likely to comment on its behavior as compared to that of another group that has deleted my comments and banned me. Of course, people like the fab fappers would stubbornly, and rather childishly, insist that this is a matter of having double standards. According to such a line of reasoning, one cannot condemn one particular act of terrorism without also mentioning every other act of terrorism in history.


One issue that tends to be neglected by the adamantly simplistic, though, is whether every act of comment deletion or user banner in social media is equal. Quite obviously not. But those who relish in self-aggrandizing reductionist discourse will not acknowledge this. If someone posts defamatory comments about others, hate speech, or information that intrudes on people’s privacy on your website, you have a good reason to delete the comments even if you are a fierce advocate of free speech. There is no ideological contradiction here—no sound advocate of free speech believes that free speech has no boundaries. Ironically, it is sometimes the same people who accuse free speech advocates of being proponents of “irresponsible” speech that pretend that true believers of free speech should never delete comments or practice any form of censorship under any imaginable condition. One can only hope that netizens are generally not taken in by such arrogantly warped attackers of sound thinking.


A distinction should also be made in terms of content. When a group that posts on public issues with a consistently pro-PAP slant keeps deleting reasonable comments that expose how it attempts to pass ideology of as unmediated truth, it has the authority to do so. Such behavior is, however, questionable and can be distinguished from the actions of a blogger who blogs about his personal life and deletes derisive comments about him. In the latter scenario, it is arguably reasonable enough for two reasons: firstly, the blog is his and he should be free to decide what to allow there; secondly, it is not an issue that concerns others.


Perhaps one might employ the same reasoning for groups that comment on politics: they are the owners/administrators of their own websites or Facebook pages, so it is also fair enough that they determine what comments to allow. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with deleting comments in itself. (If you come to my house and my cat hates dogs, you had jolly well not bring a dog along. It is not as if I’m stopping you from bringing your dog anywhere else.) Nevertheless, one may question the intentions behind the deletions when the comments are on issues of public interest. A blogger like Xiaxue can delete nasty comments about her looks for all I care, but when a site that posts on issues of public concern deletes comments that express disagreement with the original posts, it could also be effectively disallowing clarifications of misrepresented information of public concern. It has the authority to delete whatever comments it wants, but there is a good reason to criticize it for making deletions.


Lest the issue be confused, it is not even a matter of free speech here. After all, just because FAP or TRS deletes my comments, it does not mean that I am not free to express myself in general. The problem is one of how misinformation is circulated without a chance of being challenged in its immediate context. Anyone who accuses FAP or TRS of curtailing free speech is wrong for they are not powerful enough to do so. It is not as if they have the authority to put people under arrest for expressing themselves in their own Facebook pages, for instance. The problem lies in the potential for public opinion to be manipulated by disingenuous (or perhaps downright malicious groups)—and it is not limited to any particular political stance—when differing opinions and additional information at a particular page are disallowed.


From my observations, there are Internet groups with different political views that have unethical moderation policies. While there are new media groups or individuals critical of the government which do not practice indiscriminate censorship, I have yet to see one from the staunchly pro-PAP camp having similar practices. But perhaps I’m just unlucky.


*A more rudimentary version of the thoughts here have been posted in a comment under a photo deleted by Facebook. There is a possibility that the original comment had been the inspiration of the epigraph.

Confessions of a Prime Minister

By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had lacked foresight. While his detractors tend to lambast him and his party based on the admission, it can only be considered a confession as much as his utterance of a ‘sorry’ two years ago could be considered apology.

In 2011, he made a pre-General Election confession. Two years later, he is still at it, post-election. The pre-election, post-election timings are like fine patterns in an intricate work of art, giving the entire charade such an artistic feel that you almost want to forgive him:

[I]f we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time. (Kuan Yew’s son, pre-General Election, 2011)

So we lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better. (Kuan Yew’s son, post-Punggol East by-election, 2013)

Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance. The PAP has become a pathetic echo of itself at its prime, holding us captive like a monstrous team of Norma Desmonds in their delusional bid at preserving a glory long faded, tragic yet deserving no pity.

With the irony that comes immediately after the confessional moment with the release of the population white paper which presents a utopian scenario where Singaporeans are compressed like gases in a pressurized can, one cannot help but marvel at how Singapore appears to be the work of an ingenious artist with a wicked—even cruel—sense of humor.

The confession, though, is no confession. In fact, instead of being an explicit display of remorse, it is an implicit self-exoneration coupled with an insinuation that the accusers, and not the accused, are the guilty ones. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for us to blame anyone for not being able to predict the future with complete accuracy (with 20/20 foresight, in other words); so the PAP is really not blamable, and it is unreasonable of  the people to expect the PAP to be clairvoyant.

If there is a difference between the 2011 and the 2013 statements, it is the lack of the semblance of something like an apology this time round, suggesting perhaps a hardened attitude. Nevertheless, the mainstream media spin it as an admission of fallibility—as if the PAP has finally realized what they had done wrong. Channel NewsAsia came up with the headline, “PM Lee admits govt lacked 20/20 foresight”, which makes it seem as though the government is now able to see where it has gone wrong. It is unfortunate that even the PAP’s detractors, in acknowledging and emphasizing the lack of foresight, are paying more attention to what appears to be said than what is really being said. To unwittingly seem to expect the government to have 20/20 foresight is also to be susceptible to the accusation of having unreasonable expectations.

While what the prime minister is saying could have been a good retreat-as-defense strategy had it been executed with more finesse, the 20/20 reference betrays him from the outset by making him appear excessively defensive. A more astute politician might have said that he could have done with better foresight, but Kuan Yew’s son wants to emphasize that the only way the PAP could have avoided screwing things up was to have an impossible amount of foresight. In doing so, he also unintentionally reminds us precisely of the fact that not much foresight was needed to ensure that Singapore’s infrastructure is adequate for its population. Khaw Boon Wan, in the typical way the PAP politicians try to engage what they probably see as the unintelligent masses by using analogies of the mundane, makes this apparent. The Straits Times reports:

The Ministry of National Development . . . released its Land Use plan, which details how the planners will find enough land for the 6.9 million population and the 700,000 extra homes they will need.

Mr Khaw likened this effort to throwing a wedding banquet. When one invites 1,000 guests, one must cater for all 1,000, he said, even if they have not RSVPed and perhaps only 600 or 700 ultimately turn up.

Thanks to the PAP’s eagerness to pacify Singaporeans, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding population, by assuring them that the infrastructure will be sufficient, it has become clear to the people that ensuring that there is enough land, housing, and amenities is, far from requiring exceptional foresight, actually a matter of common sense. In defending himself and his party, the prime minister has indirectly admitted to either lacking common sense or to having bulldozed his way through the population increase with iniquitous disregard for the people’s quality of life.

In both the non-apology of 2011 and the vapid self-defense of 2013, Kuan Yew’s son is perhaps right in holding one particular assumption about Singaporeans: Singaporeans, by and large, are not motivated by a strong desire for democracy when they vote—even when they end up voting for the opposition; many are likely to vote for the PAP if it gives the impression that it will take care of their livelihood. They are often unwilling to rock the boat lest they fall into the water, however illogical such thinking is. The apology of 2011 was aimed precisely at giving this group of voters, even those who were skeptical of how sincere the apology was, the hope that the PAP would start to solve the problems it has caused. Hope and conservative voting behavior help the PAP’s triumph. The same hope could have been generated by the admission of 2013. The message is simple: “We already know what went wrong, and we will fix it.” The PAP has always banked on a general lack of political maturity to actually want a more democratic system.

The last week of January 2013, however, could well mark a significant turning point. With the release of the white paper on population, Singaporeans were left in a state of helplessness for a few days as the state-controlled media churned out visions of the future and ministers repeatedly assured Singaporeans that their lives would continue to be good (as if there were any goodness left to continue). It is this sense of helplessness, especially just days after a by-election where the opposition emerged victorious, that pushes Singaporeans to start drawing the connections between democracy and agency, between neglected democracy and the bread-and-butter issues with which there is a constant preoccupation. Perhaps—just perhaps—a strong opposition presence, which Singapore sorely lacks, could help Singapore avoid the 6.9-million nightmare.

Of course, the PAP has been relatively quick to change its tack. Now, Minister Khaw and the son of Kuan Yew are saying that the 6.9-million population is simply a worst case scenario. We may find yet another confession here. For years, the influx of foreigners has been marketed as a compensation for low fertility rates. Yet, if this were true, how could the influx of foreigners ever lead to a worst case scenario? Imagine a Singapore where the fertility rate has always been what the government now claims to be the ideal. Would the problems resulting from population growth still exist? If so, then high fertility rates would be the culprit with which we do not have to concern ourselves. We can only conclude, therefore, that the influx of foreigners has not been calibrated to compensate for low fertility rates, but to drive economic growth that can be seen in official digits but not experienced by the average Singaporean. It has been and will continue to be excessive.

Nevertheless, we may just be surprised for a while—things may actually improve. Even as the population grows, the infrastructure is having a race with the population. There may be a point when the infrastructure overtakes the population, allowing the people to experience some respite and feel the temptation vote for the PAP again. Kuan Yew’s son has been reported as saying that there will be improvements within three to five years. Some respite as early as 2016, the election year? Things may improve, but only until the population overtakes and wins the race. There is only so much space in Singapore, and so much that can be reclaimed, but there is an endless supply of foreigners to increase the population till apocalypse strikes. The same old trap of thinking that things are finally improving works as long as Singaporeans keep walking into it.

Eventually, we will relive the same miseries. Immigration policies will continue to be liberal. Singaporeans will continue to experience overcrowding, crushing wages, and unhappiness which we will always be made shameful of articulating. The less privileged foreigners will continue to be lowly paid, easily replaceable pawns of economic growth as Singapore maintains its zero tolerance for strikes, high tolerance of exploitation. The PAP will continue to promise to do better next time. There’s always a next time for the PAP. Unless we collectively and decisively put a stop to it.

Papers Full of Nonsense

Lucky Tan recently posted an article,  “US Presidential Debate: High Stakes, High Drama…” in which he says, “[i]n the US, they don’t do “conversations”, they debate.” In an article that makes no reference to Lucky Tan or his blog post, the article “Fiery Debates? I’d rather have boring politicians” by Jeremy Au Yong in The Straits Times also compares political discourse in America and Singapore. Predictably, Au Yong favors “conversations” over debates. It is as if the paper is on auto-pilot mode to help the PAP engage the people by praising the status quo with remarkable feats of illogic.

As a start, Au Yong describes the Obama-Romney debate with seemingly innocuous and almost positive words such as “fiery”, “exciting”, “fireworks” and “fiesty [sic]” without actually making any reference to the contents of the debate. He even compares the debate to sports. The purpose is clear. The descriptions are a sneaky way of discrediting and trivializing the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, making it appear as spectacle sans substance.

Au Yong then makes an odd, if not downright ridiculous, comparison between the debate between the American presidential candidates and a forum attended by both opposition politicians and PAP MPs. While he is certainly entitled to prefer the forum to the debate, he frames the issue as one of two forms of politics involving two types of politicians: the first being the fiery American politics and politicians, and the second being the apparently polite Singaporean politics and politicians. It is like comparing a Windows notebook with an iPad instead and saying that one is better than the other when they are not meant to be comparable.

Clearly, the fact that there are debates between American presidential candidates does not mean that American politicians cannot be at other times behave more like Singaporean ones too. Neither does the politeness between politicians in the forum in Singapore mean that politicians do not sometimes (or at the same time) resort to mudslinging and unsubstantiated claims, especially when one party has every local newspaper presenting its twisted representations of reality as immutable truth.

If Au Yong’s article is not a display of plain ignorance about the different natures of debates and forums at work, it could simply be a devious disregard of logic, semantics, and context for the sake of supporting political insipidity while demonizing other practices that could lead to a freer flow of ideas. Au Yong is evidently not blind to the difference. This is obvious when he says:

The comparatively sedate nature of the discourse between Singapore’s politicians does lead suggestions – every once in a while – about holding an American-style debate here.

Au Yong does know that just because local politicians attend forums, it does not mean that they cannot also debate with one another. It is obvious that having supposedly “American-style” debates in Singapore does not mean that it is the only way discussions are going to be conducted in Singapore. This does not matter to Au Yong, however. As far as I can see, he believes that the mere existence of debates between politicians as one of the various modes of political discourse is bad for Singapore politics:

But is a televised live debate good for Singapore’s politics?

To answer that question, it is perhaps worthwhile to first understand how such a debate works.

What the audience sees is a 90 minute face-off between two articulate people who effortless [sic] shoot off insults and attacks at one another.

In Au Yong’s eyes, the debate between the American Presidential candidates is nothing more than a trading of insults without any actual arguments about policies. He must have watched an different cut of the debate from the rest of the world. Indeed the trading of insults is a taboo in Singapore where only the PAP is allowed to insult others while the press helps to publish and circulate these insults. When others insult the PAP, it is called defamation. God forbid that politicians from different parties be allowed to insult one another in Singapore! Insulting opponents is the prerogative of the PAP, which is made up of really polite people who will never label their opponents as cheats, liars, sociopaths, chauvinists, etc.

Au Yong must have totally forgotten about debates in the Singapore Parliament, where PAP politicians would offer rigorous “rebuttals” to what severely outnumbered opposition politicians are saying, even when the rhetoric of the dominant party is full of fallacies. No, I am just kidding. He has not forgotten anything; he just thinks that politicians here are very polite to one another:

In Parliament, MPs generally remain polite even when they are pushing for something they believe in passionately.

Perhaps he is right. There is probably a limit to how rude politicians here can be, even if they are PAP politicians. After all, when the opposition is threatened by the specter of repressive laws and severe consequences, they tend to be careful with how they argue with the PAP. With a relatively tame opposition, a PAP politician would have to be infected with rabies before he gets as heated up as Obama or Romney when he is speaking to an opposition politician. In Singapore, face-offs are rare. Insults, when one is entitled to the prerogative, tend to be behind the back or below the belt.

Au Yong believes that the “American-style” debates are all about style and not substance:

Given the cut and thrust nature of the debate, it is impossible to verify instantly if everything said by either side is true. And as such, winners are rarely determined by whether they had the best facts, but on whether they had the better style.

Fact checkers do run through the points raised in the debate, but the results of these come out well after the viewing audience has already decided in their minds who won.

While Au Yong may well be justified in having reservations about political debates, the concern applies to all other modes of political discourse. It may be true that facts may be misrepresented and the audience misled. If the person with more sophisticated rhetoric has an advantage, it really does not matter whether it is delivered in a debate or a forum. Is the apparent politeness itself as something more credible not also a rhetoric move in politics? Where Au Yong has a valid concern, his distinction between the debate and the forum proves to be spurious, if not cunningly deceptive.

If the problem of debates is ultimately that the audience may be misled by articulate but less than truthful speeches during a heated debate, there is also a worry that the audience is misled by speeches in apparently polite exchanges. The problem is, in fact, aggravated in Singapore where the ruling party enjoys unfair advantages and the mainstream media helps to circulate the rhetoric of the ruling party while misrepresenting ideas from the opposition. At least there are different newspapers taking different sides in America, even if there is a lack of truly objective papers. In Singapore, there is only Singapore Press Holdings and the publications that offer dead trees as sacrifices to the PAP gods. If Au Yong is concerned about the audience being misled, he ought to be paranoid about the potential effects of this particular article of his, and the very paper he works for.

Au Yong seems to acknowledge his partiality at the end of his article, but not without throwing more misleading claims at his readers:

Look across Parliament and you will likely see many who would not otherwise do well in a debate format but have useful contributions to offer.In fact, in many ways I am partial to boring politicians.

Because there is a good chance these people won because of their track record and what they can do, rather than how good they were at talking about those things.

While Au Yong has been careful not to clearly favor the PAP for a large part of his article, preferring to support the way politics is conducted in Singapore instead of overtly supporting the way the PAP conducts itself, his final remark makes his political affinities clear. He is saying that in the PAP-dominated Parliament, many of the politicians won their seats because of their good “track record” (this echoes the PAP’s claims during elections) and trivializes any verbal gaffes they may have committed. Politicians win not because of the unfair GRC system, not because the media help the PAP generate propaganda, not because of how opposition politicians have been bankrupted with defamation suits, and certainly not because they have misrepresented anything to the people since they are such polite people.

In reality, politics in Singapore is not at all polite and benign. In many ways, it is worse for Singaporean politicians than for American politicians – unless one happens to belong to that one very powerful party in Singapore. While not everyone would agree that Singapore should emulate America, the political scene in Singapore has to change if are truly concerned about preventing the public from being misled. The change needs to come from politicians as well as the state apparatuses that have been built over decades to ensure political unfairness.

PAP’s Engagement Yields Results [Or: Who is afraid of being radical?]

After the 2011 General Election, the PAP realized that it is important for them to focus on hoodwinking more supporters over to their side. (This is not to be taken seriously. Actually, PAP politicians already recognized the importance way before that. The election performance is just a way to help them show that they truly want to win more people over.) The PAP’s strategy is intelligent—one even wonders if they have consulted professionals on the matter before proceeding with their efforts—and one cannot helped but be impressed by their measurable success. The strategy employed  is perhaps fairly simple—target a few citizens, including prominent ones and lesser-known ones, that are moderately against the PAP, give them a different impression, and let them spread the news that the PAP really is not what its detractors have made it out to be. In fact, these do not even need to say anything—a mere talk with the PAP that leaves them with nothing to criticize will be effective enough for others who can still be convinced to support the PAP. A blogger like mrbrown would thus be an ideal target because mrbrown is popular, he is critical, but he is never radical—the very traits that have helped to give voice to dissatisfaction with the PAP can be exploited to the PAP’s advantage. He does not even have to be co-opted by the PAP or say anything positive about it—merely leading the pledge on National Day with a minister is more than enough to give the shaky masses an added inclination to have a renewed faith in the PAP without any real change in the PAP at all other than the way it communicates. In fact, even when those who are supposed to be engaged can even criticize the PAP’s endeavors, the propaganda will automatically spring to life because it will seem to show that the PAP is willing to engage its critics. The factors that matter here are visibility and naivety, a trait for which Singaporeans are notorious. (I offer my deepest apologies to mrbrown and my fellow Singaporeans. Please do not be offended. Molly will be pleased to engage you if necessary.)

A change in the perception of those who are looking intently at the PAP is certainly easier to effect than a change in the character or policy paradigm of the PAP itself, and the PAP itself seems to have realized this. On the other hand, with such a strategy, the PAP has made true engagement—should they ever want to do it—more difficult than ever. For once, talking to the PAP signals heretofore non-existent ideological perils. The more successful the PAP is, the more it is distancing itself from those it truly needs to engage. Then again, it is a numbers game—the PAP does not need to care about whom it ought to engage; it simply needs to convert enough to halt and reverse its growing unpopularity. Until most Singaporeans realize this, which is unlikely, given the national character, the PAP will continue to be successful. Of course, the trick is not anything new. A similar strategy was probably adopted around the time the Prime Minister took up his current position, picking up together with his position a new fashion sense and a greater tendency to smile, both of which help to give a sense of renewal until people became sorely disappointed with the discrepancy between appearance and reality. (Left with no other plausible alternatives, Molly would actually very much prefer the stern ‘I may just slap you’ look of the past. But Molly represents the exception rather than the rule.) The same trick can be tried again with fresh sensitivities to its pitfalls that will enhance its chances of success, but it remains a trick, an optical illusion. There is no real wizardry.

The mission to change public perception is, quite naturally, far from completion. Every time anyone who is not obsessively pro-PAP wants to write something giving the PAP credit, a disclaimer lengthier than the actual piece of work is obligatory. (Molly is the exception here again because no one believes that she would ever give the PAP credit even when she does so.) Nevertheless, this also helps to further limit the number of ideological positions available for us all. It serves to redefine what constitutes the political moderate. Arguably, this is the only group that the PAP needs to target since targeting PAP fundamentalists (such as those represented by Fabrications about the PAP) is unnecessary whereas targeting devout non-believers is futile. If the political moderate tends to criticize the PAP most of the time, the PAP has a problem. One solution is to redefine moderation via engagement. It will no longer be possible, eventually, to be a moderate and be consistently critical of the PAP. Prima facie, this would seem to be an ineffective solution if we assume that political stands do not change even when positions are redefined—if one supports the PAP, one supports the PAP regardless of whether it is labeled mainstream, alternative, fundamentalist or stupid. Nevertheless, the situation is perhaps more complex. When the political moderate is redefined, there are likely to be a number of people who will be interpellated into the position of radicalism, which, oddly enough, seems to have a bad name in Singapore. (As I might have said before, moderation is often the worst form of extremism.) If it is the case that most people are averse to being radicals or labeled as such, they either accept the new label or they change. Of course, the way this happens will be natural, invisible, and often unintentional—just like evolution in nature except that the forces governing the change is anything but natural. More than ever before, the moderate must be supportively critical. If this is an oxymoron, it is one that Singapore has brought into its political reality. Whereas the PAP used to demand constructive criticism in the past, it now does so more subtly by providing its fundamentalist supporters and other naïve citizens with the lexical ammunition to launch tirades against those who do not conform to the same ideology. “One-eyed dragon” is such a term. The same job of mudslinging that the PAP and the state-controlled media used to perform so successfully is now outsourced to its multiple agents.

The redefinition may already be taking place. I have never been a follower of Visa’s blog though I recall seeing it before. He seems to be one in a growing line of netizens with whom the government is willing to practice their engagement attempts, and he has recently met the Prime Minister in person at the Istana. In his blog post about the meeting, he has the customary disclaimer—perhaps several of them—that he is not a PAP supporter, he is critical of them, he thinks it is necessary to have opposition, etc. This gentleman doth protest a little too much for comfort, methinks. Does anyone really care if a blogger is an old lapdog, a new convert or simply a freshly redefined moderate giving off the aroma of engagement from the PAP bakery? In their excessiveness, the disclaimers are effectively, if unintentionally, passive-aggressive accusations against harsh PAP critics:

Before anything else, I want to start by clearly stating that I am not a PAP “lapdog” or “bootlicker”. I am not pro-PAP. I am not pro-Opposition either. I don’t believe in picking sides. I’m against PAP super-dominance, but I would be against Opposition super-dominance too. (Of course, then they wouldn’t be called Opposition any more.) If you have to pin me down on something, consider me pro-Singapore, regardless of political affiliation.

While no one should ever fault Visa for having his own opinions, he makes it seem as though he would be attacked by merely making one positive comment about the PAP. It is people like Visa whom the PAP would love very much to redefine and use as agents to redefine moderation. To be sure, he is not pro-PAP, but he certainly does not mind having the PAP in power for a long time to come. If the PAP were a religion, it is not the believers but the naïve ones amongst the agnostics who are the truly potent lot in perpetuating PAP hegemony while being sincerely against it.

It is the naïve agnostics who actually have implicit faith in the establishment and crave for recognition from it. We see this from Visa’s reaction to being invited to the Istana:

Receiving the email from the Prime Minister’s Office- with “” in the address- set my heart in a flutter. It felt like validation from the world, telling me that I’m on the right track, and that it makes sense to do what I’m doing with this blog and everything else.

It is as if the right track that can be taken by a political commenter or PAP critic must be the PAP-sanctioned one. (Despite having blogged for so many years, no one has ever invited Molly to meet the Prime Minister. She is probably on the wrong track, thank God!) After expressing his exhilaration about being selected, however, Visa seems to contradict himself with words in bold later in his post:

I’m thoroughly, completely convinced that we were not “carefully handpicked” for “wayang” purposes.

What was there to be exhilarated about then? It is no validation at all if there was no selection criteria. After all, it could simply mean that one is randomly picked from a mass of hopeful applicants. With prominent bloggers like mrbrown and Andrew Loh being amongst the 19 people selected (a fact mentioned by Visa himself), the selection process if clearly not random. It has got to be strategic. Nevertheless, Visa is already helping spread the anti-one-eyed-dragon ideology by humbly implicating himself in what he is criticizing:

[. . .] it’s absolutely sickening and disgusting how how [sic] vile online comments can be. I mean, I’m probably guilty of it too, which makes it even worse- we are so quick to label and demonize others that we don’t even know. I’m absolutely certain that this isn’t the Singapore (or world, or internet) that I want to be a part of, and I’m sure that if you take the time to think about it, you’ll feel the same way.

Comments are just comments, actually. There is only so much a vile comment can do to its victim before the commenter’s own reputation is tarnished beyond repair. As a useful digression, what is truly vile to me is the way some PAP supporters can support the PAP cause at the expense of those who suffer the most in Singapore. There is certainly nothing vile about the comments made by Fabrications about the PAP when it posted the news article about a family of eight that manages to survive on a $1500 salary and even manages to go on a holiday once in a while. In fact, respect is expressed for this family. It could have been totally motivational if not for the fact that the purpose behind the post is to suggest that those with difficulty are whining unjustifiably when it is totally possible to survive and be happy and make lots of babies even with just $1500. According to the budget reported, the family spends less than $2 per head per day on food. A vile comment pales in comparison to a vile heart, especially one that is dressed with beautiful comments. By helping to harp on superficial attributes, Visa is unwittingly drawing attention away from that which truly needs to be examined. He does seem to realize this and superficial attributes are enough to convince him about the core:

PM does know what’s happening on the ground. He’s very observant and perceptive for one, and he listens carefully to people, and he has a fantastic team that surely updates him. He has a natural curiosity about him that I think is in the best interests of the country- and I’d say the same for BG Tan.

Visa must have been a little out of his mind (sorry for this vile comment, Visa) if he had, prior to the meeting truly thought that the Prime Minister did not know what was happening on the ground. Of course he knows what is happening even if he is disconnected from it. Politicians, particularly those in police states, always know what is happening. Whether they care or empathize is a different matter.

Like students who score top scores in examinations by regurgitating answers they have memorized without even understanding the content or having any passion for it, politicians can always provide the textbook answers and conduct themselves in the textbook way. In the new age of PAP engagement, PAP politicians are even better than ever at providing the textbook answers. Netizens have provided them with all the textbook answers by ranting at them for years. Whether there is any commitment to address the concerns of citizens is another matter. The pressing matter for the PAP, it seems, is to reverse the loss of support. Unfortunately, the PAP is not made up of people who are adept at changing themselves. If the content of their textbooks is modified, they change their answers and their tact accordingly. But they are unable to change their studying style, to use the same analogy. These are the very people who have propagated the KPI mode of thinking where the existence of the signs is proof of the reality. (Molly has pointed out examples in her series, The Annotated National Day Rally Parts I, II, III, IV, V)

What the PAP is doing is motivated by narcissism. iIt will orchestrate a “national conversation” to demonstrate that it is listening. PAP MPs and ministers may meet bloggers (as Shanmugam has done with Gintai and Teo Chee Hean has done with Reuben Wang), and they may communicate with bloggers through facebook. The crux of the problem here is not that the PAP’s engagement is what we might call wayang. If it is just wayang, the implication is that the politicians are putting up a show simply because they have to. They may in fact be doing so because they want to. But even they may fail to realize that what they want and what they are doing is not engagement but a demonstration of their willingness and ability to engage. There is otherwise no need for all these demonstrations given that, as Visa says, they essentially already know what is going on in the “ground” and could simply act upon their knowledge.

If we ignore the distinction between the intention to demonstrate to engagement and the act of engagement itself, the PAP may even seem willing to embark on engagement sans frontières, allowing everyone to say whatever they want, even anonymously. It reserves the right, of course, to choose what to respond to. It uses the same engagement attempts to propagate the ideology against anonymity and privilege those who trust it enough to divulge enough details to get themselves fixed. In the PAP’s attempts to engage the Other, the Other is always already circumscribed—by the format, by the delineations of topics, by the platform. We may be allowed to ask questions, as though we needed to ask questions and get answers from those who know better. We may be allowed to comment at other times, but the topic is likely set beforehand—even when off-topic comments are not censored or deleted, they are already displaced and disqualified. The very focus on online engagement reflects a certain phobia—the fear of the unruly Internet that could cost the PAP more votes in the long run. (If you are a homeless, illiterate old man, wait till there are enough of you to threaten the PAP’s vote count.) It is also this fear that defines engagement while also destroying it. It is a transaction, not an unconditional free embrace. People are offered the space to air their views insofar as they contribute to the PAP’s image building, even with the harshest of all comments?

How could the PAP engage in spite of its history of authoritarianism? How could the PAP engage with the ISA still current? How could the PAP engage if it essentially rejects democracy? How could the PAP engage if “engagement” has been de-notionized and is purely rhetorical?

Engagement it is called, engagement it is not, engagement is nought.

If there is what Catherine Lim called the “great affective divide” between the citizens and the PAP government, has been aggravated by the PAP’s own engagement efforts, it is now masked with pretty paper bridges under which crocodiles could lurk. If there is hope for Singapore politics, it is when engagement between the government and the citizens is unnecessary. By then, bridges would have been burnt—for a good reason.

[No, please don’t invite Molly to the Istana for tea—well, not unless you want her to be the next president. Admittedly, the pay is very attractive even after a cut. Don’t invite her to kopi either.]

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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