Friday, August 5, 2005

Uniquely Incongruent Singapore

I was looking at HuiChieh's newspaper cutout on the PM's interview about how he doesn't really mind folks engaging with the government in problem solving, but shouldn't question fundamental policies unless they are taking part in elections, and I wondered how far we've come these 40 years... The same incongruity hit me when I read a newspaper report a few years ago about how Singapore aims to become an 'international media hub' when the reality is that there isn't a single mainstream, reasonably critical and independent media here in Singapore. (Eatcake has related thoughts on the media too.) And I look at the grand new National Library and wonder about the disconnect; how come folks can come here and read all the wonderful books they want, and yet they can't speak up after they've finished reading? I think this isn't just about government policies (a convenient label), it's really about mental oppression. And it's one of the worst possible things to dish out to people. I've always have great optimism for Singapore. But this optimism is often unnecessarily dampened by remarks from the authorities! LOL I think despite the complaints about ERP, public transportation and so on, they are not indicative of the real grievances of people. I think people only want to say what they need to say, and not have their spirits crushed in the process. This isn't really hard to achieve, is it? Of course not! Which democratic country under high heaven disallows citizens to question important policies? Probably only Uniquely Incongruent Singapore. When will this trend be reversed? Your guess is as good as mine... PS. From one patriot to another... PM Lee, in case you're reading this, I hereby state that I disagree and question your policy stated in the interview! I think it's absolutely harmful to the well-being and continual progress of the country! Not everything in life needs to be tested in elections, if there's any in the first place. 大人三思啊!

7 comments:

Huichieh said...

There is a sense in which a debate over fundamental policies belong with electoral politics. At least I can see how that might make sense. And I doubt most Singaporeans really have a beef with the really fundamental fundamental stuff. (Obviously: whether or not to build a casino is not a fundamental!)

The more important incongruity (for me) is that between saying that we can discuss and debate everything (i.e., all the non-fundamentals)--but we can still get sued (rather than, say, be exposed as an idiot if we get our logic or facts wrong and someone else has the facts and the better arguments).

jeffyen said...

Yes, I think the sueing part is the other side of the coin; it *enforces* the 'don't try to be funny' directive and prevents people from debating. If the sueing clause is not there, less numbers of folks will take the whole exercise seriously. And yes, it sure is incongruent lol

About 'fundamental' policies, I have the feeling that people do think that the casino (or at least what it represents) is a fundamental issue (even if I personally am not against it.) I also don't think we are able to decide what exactly is a fundamental policy, and what is not. Perhaps the labeling isn't really useful in any meaningful sense. It's like OBi-wan markers. Maybe it's just plain 'ol FUD! :)

Huichieh said...

The difference between fundamentals and non-fundamentals is one of degree, not necessarily kind. We are talking about politics after all. I don't think that whether to have a casino in-itself is a matter of a disagreement over fundamentals. But the two sides to the debate could conceivably see it as somehow standing in for a deeper disagreement over "the kind of Singapore I want". But I get the sense that not everyone who has a contrary opinion on the issue see it this starkly--for at least some, the debate is purely about whether or not the promised benefits will outweight the predicted bad effects.

Heavenly Sword said...

Every political interview is a display of two qualities simultaneously - openness and firmness. The leader being interviewed (no matter who he is) will want to come across as both open and firm at the same time, especially if the interviewer is a foreigner...It's not so much the content of what is being said - this will in any case come across as both reasonable and sufficiently vague for others to debate over the key terms...

Mr Wang Says So said...

I didn't feel that the interview brought us to any ground. Same old questions, same old answers - and same old Singapore.

I wonder when these interviewers will break away from the usual litany - nepotism; defamation suits; Singapore's rags-to-riches story; Singapore's social engineering; openness or the lack thereof -

and ask some really different questions.

a friend said...

Huichieh - I disagree with your wording of the dilemma. It is a rather artificial dilemma. Is it better to get the facts or logic wrong or is it better to be sued? I say for a common citizen, it is only to be expected that facts can go wrong. After all, he is not privileged like the government is. Faced with such an unequal situation, maybe just maybe, it would be better to go for the political theatre of a lawsuit. That is if one has political ambitions.

Huichieh said...

The relevant disjunction (there's more than one) I was posing was not "either we get the facts wrong, or we get sued". Rather, from the point of view of the system as a whole, is it better that when a person gets the facts wrong, he be exposed as such in ordinary debate, etc., or be subject to a defamation suit. I take it that there are more factors than merely getting the truth out and exposing falsehood at stake. The defamation suit (as Mr. G. Koh once reminded us), is a double edged sword.

Secondly, as long as the stronger side keeps appealing to the defamation suit, that consideration will necessarily put a damper on people's willingness to speak up for fear of getting something wrong. So while I believe that LHL is sincere in saying that on non-fundamentals, we can talk forever, the stance is somewhat in tension with the reference to lawsuits. (Not contradictory, just a little in tension, psychologically.)