Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Have you ever noticed the way people keep referring to the government, especially in a Westminister system? The Government says it will release several financial aid packages this year. The Singapore Government has approved several biomedical projects. The Government criticised the way he released his podcast. The Government's rebuttal was published in the newspaper. On the Straits Times - "Gov't unveils $50 mil plan to...", or maybe better yet: "No damage reported in S'pore: Gov't" when some crisis or natural disaster occurs in Indonesia. It was the Government's intention to censor. Lee said that the Government would increase efforts this year to reach out to the youth. The Government has announced the launch of a new electronic initiative. Ayah, the Government always said it's going to do, but when? Damn that bloody Gahmen, ah. You've got to rage against "the Man", man! Fight the power! Perhaps on a history paper the attitude can be epitomised with, "How does Source C agree or disagree with Source B concerning the Government's use of...". Have you ever noticed how we use Government, with a capital G? Other countries' newspapers do it too, but we seem particular to it.

It's amazing what one can do for a collective entity and turn in into an inhuman individual. The corporations, the pharmaceuticals, the Parliament, the higher-ups. At the rate we're going, we might as well call it The God, like Xenu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or something along those lines. It won't replace that God, but we regard it as a Capitalised Individual so let's give it the exalted name of an individual. We can't just call it "a god" you know, since Singaporeans love to capitalise everything as though we were back in the 1700s when Trade and Commerce bagan to reject Mercantilism, and Congress was appointed the power to levy "Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises", as well to provide and maintain a Navy....

I can see it now:

"The God has raised our constituencies' GST again! It must be angry at us disloyal Potong Pasir and Hougang voters."

"I pay my yearly offering/taxes to The God, but still nothing has come good of them liao."
"The Ministry of Finance's support underlines The God's aspirations for future financial development (zing!) in the region was a comment from one individual."

"How can you talk about Our God like that! It's such a good and responsible God. It will never do anything like that one."

"It appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blaspheme, insult and rant out against the God or his civil servants believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning the Heavenly Kingdom of Singapore." (Xinjiapo Tianguo?)

"Netizens have no right to condemn the devoted worshipper who brought the bloggers' blasphemous posting of podcasts against The God on the Internet to the attention of the police. But no one can escape the all-seeing eyes of The God, who is infallible and is master of everything, and will send his ISD angels to punish all who blaspheme against him."

Disclaimer: I'm Christian myself and meant no offence to anyone, let me illustrate a point. (As to the original last two quotes, I would say that faith is superficial without religious liberty and hence naturally oppose Char's arrest myself, although not his scolding.) But if anything, we are already treating the Government like a god.

In the meanwhile, the papers have very funny attributions - "No need to worry about [some scheme]", but at the end it's a statement by a ministry, minister or the Government, again. If one looks carefully, they can spot the weasel words and passive voice that are depersonalising the sources of the statement. If it's a minister, he's clarifying something for his ministry. It's very easy to write a Straits Times article to push a point of view. Simply add a belief - let's say, "I don't think it will be a huge problem" and write at the end, "said one Singaporean/citizen/individual/mother/taxi driver", and to reinforce it, "said another". Meanwhile, the editorials with the journalist's opinions no longer have the "I" or "my opinion" feel.

This is not merely a practice, or something that the government/the PAP/"the Man"/the establishment/LKY/LSL/Big Brother is encouraging by itself/themselves. People are slamming those who speak up but do not join a political party, or do not totally align themselves with that Great Cause. Singaporeans, apathetic and passionate alike seem to utilise the capital G in their writings, and depersonalise entitites in their speech.

We blanket label huge groups of people. In the presidential republic of the United States, the press does not use the term "Government" that often, and one would argue that is due to separation of powers. But yet, they suffer pro-life, pro-choice, narrow-minded conservative, baby-eating liberal, Bible-pounding fundamentalist. In other parts of the world, replace this with Quran/Torah/Vedic-text/The Analects as appropriate. You have to love Ann Coulter, who will argue on radio and television about how those liberals are at it again! Lee Hsien Loong argues that a dominant-party system prevents the polemics, the labelling, the name-calling and the strife found in multi-party systems. Not true. Singapore has simply centralised the terms onto "the Government".

Never mind that the Government is made up of thousands of civil servants, dozens of ministers and maybe tens of thousands working desk jobs at a computer at some ministry. An entire school can announce a plan or have an opinion, like say, but let's exclude the students, because apparently their views are always the views of their superiors, never mind that it would be a board's opinion, not the entire school. In some cases, it is no longer an entire government but an entire country, which can have one plan, one set of thoughts, one approval, or one set of initiatives to launch. Singapore has announced plans to launch some new infocommunications infrastructure for an "Intelligent Nation", or perhaps lets view Singapore's network vision, a vision that somehow includes 4.3 million people, despite being crafted by a select committee and a plan we as a people never approved of.

When we use collective terms like that, we mitigate the dissenting individuals, who can be a very large part of the collective. I am a communitarian, myself, but there is a distinction between cooperation and harmony, and ever increasing and greater majoritarianism. "The Singapore voters have spoken", Lee Hsien Loong might be paraphrased to say. "They clearly have rejected the third-class opposition." How many unnecessarily mitigating collective terms can you find not only in the material the SPH produces, but in your daily speech? The more collective labels we use, the more and more hackneyed things become. I rewatched I Not Stupid the other day. It was funny when I was in Primary Six, but much less so when I realised the cliches they were putting through, among other things, collective terms. But a film is a film, I guess.

A government's power come from its people. This applies for any government, from North Korea to the nearly nonexistent one in Somalia, to the traditional republic, Westminster, presidential, or otherwise. The only difference is the ability to organise. When the Parliament of Singapore passes a law, the civil servants have to accept it in order to enforce it. The Singapore Police have to accept it in order to enforce it. The judges, the clerks and other officials of the Courts of Singapore accept and give their consent when they allow an arrest warrant for a member of the opposition to pass through. It is true, due to lack of separation of powers, if any of them stood up, they might be fired. If the clerks of a ministry refuse to do their job, some others might take over.

Yet one should remember, laws without enforcement are meaningless. 82 people and the addition of several other key PAP members cannot monitor the whole of Singapore. It seems that only when law enforcement receive a whistleblow from a member of the public concerning some seditious internet posting that they take action. Many of us citizens, disillusioned or cynical about Singaporean democracy, have consistently bashed the whole government, the whole administration, the whole establishment, or given up on it.

But at the end of the day, it's common Singaporeans who deliver the Straits Times and sell the SPH paper, and who give it money. Is it perhaps that many of us don't get arrested or get calls from the ISD because those working in government positions aren't out to hunt us down, don't want to and feel reluctant about taking any such action, but only act upon receiving orders? After all, think about what any of us might do, if they dissented against the undemocratic laws that the Parliament passes yet was an investigator - then being told to locate the identity of a blogger so he or she could be arrested.

It is the lift contractors who perform the upgrades, not members of a political party, nor Lee Hsien Loong. It was recently proposed to fund a project exclusive of government support to upgrade all the lifts instead and to donate money for such a project. Singaporeans aren't bad fundraisers - one only has to look at the millions of dollars we, as Singaporeans, gave to NKF in a single night whenever they held their shows. Must we wait for government support to issue subsidies or educate our children? When we judge others, whether as a colleague or employer, it is who will give preferential treatment to someone because he or she is Caucasian, and yet resent them at the same time. It is us, who will look down on somebody simply because he did not thrive in an education system set by a few select individuals within the Ministry of Education. It is is us, who write the supplementary assessment books, or become teachers - not the ministers.

But with polemics, the good are labelled with the bad. We label entire groups of people for the decisions of a few. Even the PAP itself is not homogeneous, but rather, kept in line by the Party Whip. One can tell things have degenerated to a polemic state of affairs when I read someone's accusations of Dawn Yeo and Xiaxue being "pro-PAP". Apparently, STOMP is so pro-PAP because it is an initiative by the Government, with a capital G. You can tell because those pro-PAP bloggers are in it. Those bloggers are pro-PAP because they are in it. Never mind the recursive logic! It's apparently just another grand conspiracy of the Government, never mind that it doesn't happen to be a homogenous entity with everyone in it sharing one set of views, even though they might not voice it out. Don't mind me, I just think it's a laughable initiative that is trying to establish connections with the disaffected youth but is going to end up failing again. You can tell because they are trying too hard, especially with the recent NDP press release.

Here on one side, the pro-PAP people. On the other side, the pro-WP people, or perhaps the pro-SDP people. We can't have it any other way. All of us must align ourselves with a label, espouse every ideal and view of that label, unable to hold any individualism. Who is perpetuating this? One only needs to evaluate our common language we use when discussing political issues. Beware the dangers of polemics.


At Tue Jul 04, 10:32:00 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're weird.

At Wed Jul 05, 07:28:00 AM GMT-5, Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

In what way, mon ami?

At Mon Jul 10, 02:00:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Elia Diodati said...

When a single entity dominates the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, the distinctions between government and Government, and Government and the ruling party begin to blur. Tack on the official "ideology" of pragmatism, and the dividing lines indeed become mostly irrelevant.

At Tue Jul 11, 03:41:00 AM GMT-5, Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

Mmm, yes, but lack of separation of powers does not imply monolithism. Rather it discourages whistleblowers, but it doesn't mean there aren't any who yearn to be one.

Gayle Goh published this message from a media insider that I think would be a pertinent perspective.


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