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I am Singaporean Vol. 3, I – On Apathy October 23, 2009

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean Vol. III.

There’s an article on TOC about Singaporean youths being apathetic with regards to politics.  I’m not going to argue against the fact that they ARE apathetic (I consider myself apathetic when I happen to be in Singapore, but hey, I don’t really think about staying in Singapore for the long haul), instead, I am going to talk about why apathy is such a big thing in Singapore.

Why am I apathetic?  In fact, why are people apathetic?  The article discusses self-centredness amongst the youth, but I believe that this polemic against self-centredness is just shifting the focus of things.  You find the most self-centredness in countries with lesser political apathy – why are, for example, divorces commonplace in the West?  The self-centredness of the youth in Singapore, in spite of their political apathy, cannot be placed on their “myopic self-centred interests” alone.  You can put it this way too – people who are engaged in politics do so either because they are really altruistic and want to do something for society, OR because they want to make a point, they want to go down in history.  But these are two extremes, and people normally do so because they want to improve the lives of others and at the same time be remembered when they are gone.

It all has to do with finding meaning in life.  So why are Singaporeans self-centred, and at the same time, apathetic?

Perhaps it is because life in Singapore is meaningless?  For example, the meaning of life in Singapore revolves around family, seeing your kids grow up, etc., and for those who don’t have a family, or are unwilling to start one, it revolves around career, being the best in what you do, trumping the competition.  For both these people, materialistic goods are an integral part of their aims and needs – the former to provide for others and for oneself, the latter for ego.  As a by-product, work is done and there is a general development, a general improvement in the state of things.

But is there meaning above that?  Some find it in religion, serving God (or trying to calm their consciences)? But for those who pursue materialism, meaning is just a thing of possessing a quantitative more, by which I mean more money, a better car, a bigger house, etc.  Who reads anymore, who thinks about life?  Why are students of the Arts looked down on?

Because MORE is an aspect of meritocracy, or an aspect of a particular interpretation of meritocracy.  “The best deserve to succeed” – in a meaningless life, ‘good’ is equated with ‘more’, for is not ‘better’ ‘more good’? (*NB: when i give such terms in quotation marks, they are based on the particular interpretation of ‘good’ as given above.) But here comes the sucker-punch way below the belt in the nuts:

In Singapore, many are good.  So the ‘best’ are chosen to succeed, and the rest are doomed to fit their ideals of ‘good’ into this particular view of meritocracy.  Self-centredness is an outlet for the frustrated will to succeed – it is probably how the soul deals with the fact that life is doomed to meaninglessness (i.e., “nothing will ever change.”) So, this explains the apathy somehow – just as you will trust whatever a doctor tells you with regard to your health, you will trust whatever the politician tells you regarding the country.  So, apathy, in the form of blind trust, is good for you, the doctor, and the politician.

But is it?  Another factor (I am coming to the end of this complicated theoretical discussion so bear with me,) is that this materialistic interpretation of meritocracy (remember: ‘good’ = more) means that things are black and white.  Something is either right or wrong, either good or bad.  There is no grey area.  Maybe that explains why the arts have no place in Singapore, and you will find it in political discourse as well.  Defamation is punished harshly, because it is wrong.  What’s more, you have defamed the ‘best’, and the rich and powerful can always hit back, and hit hard.

But politics is hardly a science.  Politics deal with sentiment.  The reason why self-centredness finds its expression in political engagement is that people believe that they can make a difference.  As long as we never have this impression that we can make a difference, then apathy is here to stay.  For a long, long time.  Calling people to stand up and fight for your future is impressive.  BUT as long as reality and education says that you will never make a rat’s ass in terms of difference, it just remains flowery rhetoric.

Or “highfalutin”, as some octogenarian would tell you.

6: To The Devotees of “Asian Values” October 15, 2009

Posted by The Truth in What Were They Thinking?!.

Many of my readers (if there are any left) will want to have a reason for my disappearance.  Well, I have been observing.  Ris Low boomz’ed, lifts should be upgraded, the EZ-Link cards had to be changed.  But then i came across something on Young PAP, an article called “To The Devotees of Western Democracy and Human Rights.” Since I believe that idiocy has to be dealt with using a large hammer, so here goes…

The author has tried to justify the “superiority” of Asian values vis-à-vis Western values.  Well, in every culture, the dominant values are always seen as superior over other values – it is one of the things which contribute to identity.  But one has to ask the question if it is right, or even if it does make sense to use such a blanket-term like “Asian Values”. What are “Asian Values,” anyway?  The author seems to be deliberately trying to remain vague on what they are.  Does he assume that we all know what they are?  One quarter of our population are now expats and PRs leh.

In fact, the term “Asian values” as they are in Singapore remains so vague, because it is implicitly expected that we know what they entail.  But do we?  The ruling class can have another set of “Asian Values” – e.g., maybe the Men in White ARE the Sons of God, or maybe a particular Man in White, the scholar system (i.e., elitist thinking), the larger focus on belief in authority, society before self, etc.  But for the ruled, “Asian Values” may mean virtue, being ruled fairly, and that a ruler should care for his subjects, family, etc.  BUT these are never said clearly.  “Asian Values” must remain vague, because as a blanket-term, you can apply it anywhere and everywhere, and you can separate yourself from the horrible West.  So yah, first, what are “Asian Values?”

And these were also the nations [European powers] that, at the height of their imperialism, imposed, by sheer brute force, the ‘right’ of extra-territoriality upon the countries they had subjected. And now, they are crusading for Freedom and Human Rights in their former colonies as well as the other countries of Asia.

Now the author accuses the West of cultural imperialism.  Of course the West can afford to be cultural imperialists (especially Uncle Sam, well under Bush anyway), since they have the might and the money.  But in ‘crusading’ (jeez! what a word! this isn’t the Middle Ages, you prick, and if you had any sense of political language, you would have avoided it.  The very concept of Jihad by Muslim fundamentalists go back to the Crusades, you fool!) for “Asian Values” overseas – what, Singapore is trying to strike back?  With what force?

In fact, Western values are so important for Singapore that you can’t do without them.  If we don’t want Western values, then we should chase foreigners out, especially the educated Westerners in our universities, and we should, of course, send our scholars not to Europe anymore!  I mean, they ARE going to rule, you know??  So what is being said is that for our author, he is grossly short-sighted: this smacks of a way to stay in power, by using a vague term to make one system sound better than the other.  Without any agreed definitions, this is just RHETORICS.

The Anglophile may be despised, but maybe our author should be too, since he is doing nothing much more than building castles in the air, i.e. calling others to take up arms against the Western cultural crusade (seriously, were you with the Taliban?) based on a term which is so general that it is empty, and using the rhetoric of certain senior citizens who deem fit to travel the world and impose their own brand of imperialism under the motto of “leave us alone, you have no idea what it is like to rule an Asian country,” yadda, yadda.  Yes, what were you thinking?