Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Disenfranchised.


No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.
- Richard Phillips Feynman, "The Uncertainty of Values" (in the collection The Meaning of it All)

Government is too big and too important to be left to the politicians.
- Chester Bowles

In Follow The Money, I tried to document the economic reasons why I was considering emigration. In this post, I will try to address the political reasons first described in Emigration Essay - hopefully without stepping over any OB markers and getting sued bankrupt for libel.

I am considering emigration for political reasons. I am emigrating because I wish to participate in civil society without having to register a political party. Because I reject the idea of political OB markers. Because I believe citizens (not PRs or foreigners) should have the primary influence in the running of the country. Because I believe a government should serve the citizen, and not rule the citizen. Because I want to live in a democracy, not a oligarchy. Because I believe a free press having their hidden agendas but that agenda should never blindly echo that of the ruling party in government. I am considering emigration because I want to be able to express my love and affection for my country without immediately being scrutinised for a political agenda.
- from blog post
Emigration Essay
Those who know me in real life may reasonably accuse me of hypocrisy. My political views are lukewarm at best, with boh-chup apathy being the most accurate descriptor. Like many of my peers and my parents before me, I have honoured the unwritten social contract with the ruling party of the Singapore government. We serfs leave the "politics stuff" and surrender most part of our individual freedoms to our rulers, and we are to be given economic prosperity and material goodies in return.

Unfortunately I have seen many in my
parents' generation get a raw deal out of that social contract. And I fear the situation for our generation is not going to be improving. For all the media reports about the GDP of Singapore growing, the average quality of life for the serfs seems to continue degrading year after year. I am not smart enough to explain all this in some newfangled universal theory - but only to report what I perceive. Even for my peers who are entrenched with good jobs and desirable skills, I see them struggling harder and harder to keep up with the cost of living. My parents could raise three kids on a single income, whereas dual-income couples with no kids are struggling to make a good life in Singapore today. I look at some of my peers and am reminded of rats running in a neverending maze desperately seeking a way out.

Life in Singapore is good - if you are an elite. Or are invited here as an foreign talent by our political and business elite. But what about the remaining 95% of us low-cost labour serfs who do not earn in our lifetimes what our rulers take home in a year? Who speaks for us?

In ancient times, poverty-stricken serfs sold themselves into slavery to be able to afford to eat. It would seem that we have struck a frighteningly similar deal as a society (surrendering individual liberty for economic prosperity).. so why are some of us still desperately hungry? Or painfully trying to etch out an existence?

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
- Voltaire
So I do a dangerous thing and declare the deal to be off. If as a serf, I am not getting the economic prosperity promised, why should I be willingly surrendering my political voice? It is not just about selling my soul, but at least I should get a good price for it!
The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.
- Benjamin Franklin
In the past, it was okay to passively allow the government to interfere in many private spheres of an individual serf's life. From how many children you are supposed to have, to which sexual acts are illegal in our private spaces, to what we can or cannot say in public, to the massive culling of harmless cats in the name of public health, to our legal system's implementation of certain laws, to whether we should have a casino.. and the paternalistic list goes on and on and on.

We all made the deal in one form or another. We serfs would shut up and accept the divine wisdom of our rulers (even if we questioned the decisions privately), all in the name of economic properity translated in terms of reasonable employment, affordable housing and transport, decent level public medical care, and the hope that we will not be forsaken when we are past our economic prime.

Surely one of the most important of those would be to ensure prosperity for the people? Again, if the government fails in this and most of the people live in poverty, there will be a revolution, (or at least a culture of dissent) no matter how much the government is feared. So now do you see why there are so few political blogs in Singapore? This is contentment you see, you silly person. The government is so good at serving our needs and wants that most of us couldn't care less about every little thing it does. If it ain't broken, why fix it?
- from I Rock You Suck, blog entry
I Got A Letter From Mr. Leeky
I do not know how it all went wrong somewhere in between my parents' generation and mine. The promises have been renegaded upon, by those my parents have put into power ruling us. Many in our generation have been disenfranchised and hence cannot be held directly responsible. Betrayed.

Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.
- Harry S. Truman
So how can one individual serf (or one small group of serfs) change the situation here? What happens if you are childfree, or a homosexual, or a cat-lover, or staunchly against gambling, or if you are libertarian? What can you do if your most core personal beliefs are in direct conflict with the edicts of our rulers?

You could suppress your individual beliefs and just obey the "shut up and sit down" lesson that we have all been well indoctrinated with throughout our education. Which was the unwritten social contract made way back in the 1960s. We serfs shut up and sat down and accepted our fate with indifference - and in return we will get well fed and properly housed and cared for.

Or you could try to change the system. Many have tried and many have failed. And many have simply given up in the face of impossible odds. I am sure somebody or some group will eventually succeed in making a difference, but at what cost? And will the paradigm shift occur in my lifetime? Doubtfully.


***


We are currently seeing this microcosm being played out right here on our very own Singapore blogsphere as being documented by this case of a Hypothetical Libel. The Singapore blogsphere resident ang-mo gadfly, now based out of Edinburgh UK, mirrors some of the offending material in Convexset Threatened or What? over a public apology made allegedly at the threat of a Zap Gun 3000BW (New! From Mattel). All this fuss just because a couple of bond-breakers decided to go public with their stories in the attempt to improve the Singapore scholarship system and in the process offending the Powers-That-Be, in particular one of those in the group of He Who Must Not Be Named For Fear Of Threat Of Massive Litigation. The ending [mirror] of this little escapade is, of course, not unexpected.

Being a political apathetic serf, I hold no strong views on the Singapore scholarship process, or the issue of the casino, or the case for equal rights for homosexuals. But what happens when the focus again swings to something that I (or D.) care deeply about? The unhappiness and inpotent fury (and still simmering resent) of D. over the no-longer recent issue of callous culling of harmless cats with SARS as a public health excuse, is but a bitter foretaste of frustrated helplessness when we will face again (and again) with the next government edict that challenges what we personally believe to be right. Who will speak up for us serfs then?

For example. The Singapore Serf blog is focused on the topic of emigration. An issue that is rather sensitive to our current government. An embarassment - if you may - that well-qualified native Singaporeans are leaving on one hand while immigrant policies are attempting to import large numbers of ethnically-Chinese migrants on the other hand. Even today, the public availability of Singapore emigration numbers are still considered a state secret threatening the sanctity of our nation's total defence. If the ISD officers were to knock on my door tonight, or if I were to get a letter from a prominent politician with a cease-and-desist instruction - you can be sure I will be following the orders to the letter. Because who will speak for us serfs? Nobody. The silence is resounding indeed.
Furthermore, I think the state also realises that the key to a dynamic and resilient economy is a dynamic and resilient society. Sheep may make good workers, but they’ll never be creators, entrepreneurs, risk-takers and wealth creators. And these are the very kinds of people that Singapore needs. The side-effect is that such people are independent-minded and outspoken. If the government doesn’t withdraw from controlling the public space and allow more freedom of expression, these people will simply leave out of frustration.
- from Wannabe Lawyer, blog entry Response to an interview

People much much smarter than me have figured it out a long long time before I ever did. I have no great desire to change the system in Singapore, or no grand plans on how to make Singapore more inclusive, or how to have Singapore become a kinder, gentler society. As a serf, I just primarily want to be able to eat well, to be afforded my little petty luxuries and to hopefully die well. And once in a while, on matters close to my heart, be able to have my say and have it considered (for what little it is worth) in the greater scheme of decisions by our rulers. But unfortunately even after paying the full price of political disenfranchisement, that little economic comfort promised still seems to be unattainable.

No wonder the
Singapore blogsphere is 'infantile'. Being otherwise would risk crossing the invisible, unmarked, ever-shifting OB markers, and getting sued bankrupt. We already have so many precedents in Singapore history that that the course of action is almost expected and hardly surprising.

That is why I have great respect for people who would dare risk sacrificing a lot to stand up for what they believe in on the grounds of their principles. Unfortunately, right does not imply might. And in our realpolitik world of Singapore the converse is very much true. Just like in Norse mythology, we cheer on Odin and all the Aesir gods of Asgard - yet knowing that for all their heroic struggles, nothing will stop Ragnarok.

So from a practical point of view, what choice do we have? Comment thread from Deus Ex Machina, blog post
Bear your own burdens:
they are the ones with cushy cars and big houses. what do they care about the maggots they lord it over?
- lyn

So what options do we maggots have?
- knightofpentacles

unfortunately any form of dissent is not advisable since you're more likely to get into trouble than have anything constructive achieved.
- lyn

We maggots have only two options, to obey or disobey. It's all contractual, obey and get more Singaporean maggots, disobey and get more foreign ones. That's all. We have no power but our opinions... which incidentally count for zilch.
-Fr057m0urn3
Or as Parkaboy puts in astutely on the comments thread of Adri's blog post One More Thing:
But who wants to be the fall guy? Who wants to take the risk of being the next Chee Soon Juan or Francis Seow, subject to perpetual misunderstanding or ridicule in the case of failure?

And who would you be being the fall guy for? The welfare (in the deepest, truest sense) of a nation of people who maybe - just maybe - don’t even have it in them, even when slapped across the face with it, to wake up. (It’s not as if Operation Coldstore was particularly subtle.)

If you want change, that’s the sacrifice that has to be made. You have to be willing to risk being the fall guy. And if Adri - or anyone else - can’t or won’t (for perfectly understandable reasons) take that risk, it’s fair to say the only real option (besides the psychological and emotional mutilation of buying into the system) is to leave.

And as in the past, we see this little act of dissent and civil disobedience dispelled harmlessly into the ether. And our sunny utopian island once again returns to the peaceful state of equilibrium with the serfs living in harmony. As we will see this same story again in the future - with different names and situations - repeated again and again and again and again..
"Yes, yes, Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people's needs. Very sad life. Probably have very sad death, but at least there is symmetry. Go, go, Zathras take care."
- Babylon 5:"War Without End #1"

7 Comments:

Blogger suspiciousbastard said...

If change is needed, a charismatic and articulate leader who truly cares aabout the masses is required to stand up to today's leaders and demand them, like the guy who did so, in Singapore nearly 40 years ago. In reality, such a person does not exist....

April 26, 2005 7:09 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Hi, there is a lot of truth to what you said, and I will probably give my take on your post tomorrow.

April 26, 2005 7:42 PM  
Blogger chicken crossing said...

The Oligarchs are entrenched......and supported by the most servile servants of the People.....you nor I or anyone else can singularly do anything about it.....
You live with the situation and wait for the Dog to die and the cycle of looking for another Dog begins because to be born a flea you own nothing and you must in your lifetime continuously look for a dog.

April 26, 2005 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin Tan said...

And our sunny utopian island once again returns to the peaceful state of equilibrium with the serfs living in harmony. As we will see this same story again in the future - with different names and situations - repeated again and again and again and again..
====

The Matrix just got rebooted with the code contained in AcidFlask's blog? =)

April 26, 2005 10:09 PM  
Blogger Huichieh said...

Trackback: From a Singapore Angle, "A Sad Day for the Singapore Blogosphere"

April 27, 2005 11:52 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi, spotted the questions "who are you? what do you want? ..." on yr sidebar and thought this guy must be a fellow Babylon 5 fan (complete with the zathras quote)! u the one who asked who i was on gssq.blogspot.com ?

April 28, 2005 10:20 AM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

Two responses to this post can be found at:
I Rock, You Suck - Some Disjointed Thoughts.
souliloquy - Trackback Some Disjointed Thoughts.

April 29, 2005 3:27 AM  

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