Screaming for Silence

There’s a lot going on in the world today. Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland, the anti-vaccination crowd endangering innocent children, the Vatican shielding paedophile priests, Huffington Post UK’s boastful exploitation of its writers, raw food fanatics making themselves ill…and Madonna’s impending Singapore stop on her upcoming Rebel Heart world tour.

Now why, you may ask, would I mention that last item after listing a series of grave issues affecting our world in this day and age? After all, Madonna has long been irrelevant (I realize my opinion is completely subjective), and I believe the people who intend to attend her concerts are mostly long-time fans of hers, i.e., adults who have been listening to her music since they were teenagers.

Well, I mentioned it because it seems to be the most relevant and prevalent issue right now in my country, Singapore. Weird, right? Granted, it will be her first time performing here, and I know concerts can be a huge deal for fans; heck, I get uncharacteristically excited and excitable whenever I find out a band or artiste I like will be coming to Singapore. But an upcoming concert is rarely the most newsworthy event in any country…until now, that is.

First, there were fears the concert would not even happen. When those fears proved unfounded, there was the censorship to which the local authorities subjected the show. And now, the religious fundamentalists of this great nation have come out in full force to protest the concert, exhorting their fellow faithful not to partake of this debauchery.

There has been a flurry of opinion flooding the newspapers and Internet. Archbishop William Goh has discouraged Catholics from attending the concert, members of the public have made their disapproval known, and  — surprise, surprise — Singapore’s resident leather-clad, homophobic Baptist pastor has voiced his support for the Archbishop regarding this matter. On the upside, there has also been humorous commentary, like this one from satirical “news” website New Nation.

I see two main problems with this fervent moral policing: first of all, if you want as many people as possible not to attend the concert, drawing more attention to it by constantly talking about it is hardly the way to go about things. Also, Madonna has dedicated much of her career to trolling the Catholic church and in general, to being as provocative as possible. None of the religious criticism she has gotten over the years has led to her changing her act, so why would it make a difference now? And if one’s faith can be eroded by a pop singer aiming to be controversial, it must not have been very strong in the first place.

Secondly — and more importantly — who died and made these people the Approved Moral Police of Singapore (AMPS)?

Allow me to digress a little here. Contrary to what some of the more conservative people who (think they) know me might believe, I am not some immoral hedonist. Though I am not as religious as I once was, I am still a Catholic who tends towards tradition and even conservatism in several aspects of my life. For instance, I personally do not see the appeal of polygamy. I still attend Mass (though not every week). For the most part, I refrain from consuming meat on Lenten Fridays. I am against the use of hard drugs. I dislike certain uses of religious imagery and symbolism in entertainment. And I am definitely not a Madonna fan.

And while I am no moral relativist, I do not seek to prevent others from doing what they want, or to look down my nose at those whose lifestyles differ from mine. I also understand that any attempt to impose the nuances of one’s moral code on another person, let alone an entire community or country, is little more than an exercise in self-righteousness, moral superiority and delusions of grandeur.

You see, the problem is not conservative people. People should be free to lead their lives however they please, so long as they are not harming anyone. Conservative or liberal, it should be entirely up to the individual. In fact, I believe people should also be able to enjoy absolute freedom of expression without fear of police action, regardless of how controversial or even abhorrent their views may be. The problem is people who think they are qualified to tell others what to do, sometimes even to the extent of trying to censor or ban everything they deem “offensive”. Yes, this also happens in the “liberal” world.

This brings me to perhaps the most common overused excuse for that special brand of hyper-conservative finger-wagging:

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Ah, yes. “The children”. Whenever a group of grownups with the maturity of pre-schoolers can’t handle the existence of something they dislike, their go-to defence is “the children”. Children, who, up to a certain stage, rely heavily on their parents to speak for them.

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, there’s a lot going on in the world today. Just how much can one protect kids from the realities of life? That is not to say we should willingly and purposely expose children to ideas and content more suitable for adults, but at the same time, we should not assume the role of moral police, or attempt to censor from everyone what we would rather children not consume.

If you don’t want to go for a particular concert, don’t go. If you don’t want your children to go, tell them and explain why. Don’t write letters to the media to urge the authorities to “act with principled resolution to uphold those values cherished by many Singaporeans”, when what you really mean is “everyone should be made to comply with my superior, conservative beliefs”. Don’t rail against liberalism and progressiveness and accuse those who disagree with you of being “regressive”, when your need to coerce everyone into living in the Dark Ages with you is what is truly regressive.

This may seem crazy to you, but your gay colleague’s relationship with his boyfriend won’t ruin your heterosexual marriage. Your neighbour attending Madonna’s concert won’t cause you any personal catastrophe. Your niece’s Harry Potter books won’t make you turn away from your Abrahamic faith to a life of devil worship.

I shall end with a quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold The Moon: “The principle (of censorship) is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.”

Time to Grow Up and Get Real

As you probably are already aware, much ado has been made about a group of migrant Filipinos’ plan to celebrate Philippine Independence Day on 8 June this year at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza. The criticism from many Singaporeans has been so widespread and harsh that the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore, a volunteer group, had to remove an advertisement for the event from its Facebook page. In fact, news of the uproar over the event has spread overseas, as evidenced by this Wall Street Journal article.

Some Singaporeans merely have an issue with the venue, what with Orchard Road being a public place (celebrations of other countries’ independence in Singapore normally take place in private venues, such as embassies). Other Singaporeans are decidedly more nationalistic – the Facebook group Say “No” to an overpopulated Singapore even went so far as to organize a protest against the event, taking issue with Filipinos celebrating their independence (publicly) in Singapore, as well as the use of the Singapore skyline and the terms “inter-dependence” and “two nations” in its publicity materials:

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This strikes me as overtly nationalistic and somewhat extreme, but I’ll get to that later. First, let’s look at something even more ludicrous.

This may surprise those of you who know me personally, but I am rather fond of Gilbert Goh. Well, to be more precise, I am quite entertained and amused by his many antics. He’s given me something to write about in the past, and now, he’s struck again.

Sample his latest offering:

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I don’t know about you, but I burst out laughing when I first saw this. Maybe he doesn’t have a dictionary and therefore doesn’t comprehend the real meaning of “war”, or maybe he just loves Singapore so much that the very thought of foreigners celebrating their independence here irks him to no end.

I’m just trying to picture the scenario: when the celebrations are in full swing and the Filipinos raise their country’s flag, are Gilbert and his buddies going to charge in decked out in full army gear to tear it down and attack the foreigners? Will they valiantly defend us against those dangerous Pinoys who will be armed with their deadly confetti and arsenal of assorted party accessories? My, my…such patriotism sure does bring a tear to the eye.

All sarcasm aside, however, it is a tad worrying that Gilbert has loyal followers who think they are doing Singapore and Singaporeans a great service by perpetuating blind nationalism and, by extension, xenophobia. There, I said it. I dropped the dreaded X-bomb. But the truth is staring us in the face, and we would be fools not to acknowledge it.

The growing tension between locals and foreigners is understandable, what with the sudden influx of the latter and the resultant overcrowding of this tiny island. Our transport infrastructure is deteriorating, the cost of living is constantly rising, and we’ve all been thrown together into the pretty little pressure cooker otherwise known as Singapore.

I’m no expert on anthropology, but what little knowledge I have of social psychology tells me that when there are large numbers of people from the same culture or country in the same place, they tend to gravitate towards one another, feeling safer in the familiarity their compatriots provide. They lack the time and opportunity to properly integrate into the culture of their host country, and it comes as no surprise that reports of unbecoming behaviour from them have surfaced in recent years. They are unaware or simply not mindful of what is acceptable and unacceptable in their host country, and so, often inadvertently offend the locals.

When we as Singaporeans encounter such situations, we have a few options:

  • nip it in the bud and call the offender out on his actions, firmly but civilly, so he understands why he was wrong
  • retaliate and get into an altercation (that will most likely find its way onto the abomination known as STOMP)
  • curse at the offender under your breath and make a mental note to be wary of “his kind” from now on – and warn everyone you know

Unfortunately, too many Singaporeans seem to prefer the second and third options to the first. It’s just easier to lash out and write an entire race / culture of people off than to take the time to educate and learn from them. But not doing so will eventually lead to the dilemma Singapore faces today: a misguided sense of patriotism and a myopic “us versus them” mentality.

That is not to say I support Population White Paper, for the simple fact that it would be utterly impractical to add another 1.6 million people to an already overcrowded country. And I most certainly am not applauding our dear PM’s chastising of Singaporeans over the Philippine Independence Day celebration issue. For those who have not seen it, here’s what he had to say:

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 8.38.39 PMAnd here, summing up exactly why I’m not fawning over the PM’s statement, logical as it may seem, is blogger Molly Meek’s response:

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Apart from him being “appalled” simply because he is afraid of losing face, his lack of a similar response whenever a foreigner publicly and unfairly criticizes Singaporeans leaves much doubt as to where his political priorities lie – is he afraid to offend foreigners who are boosting the local economy? After all, our ministers have been slow to speak out objectively when Singaporeans come under fire from foreigners, yet quick to condemn Singaporeans for “xenophobia” when some of us criticize them. They have also been swift in discriminating against lowly paid migrant workers – the recent Little India riots and ensuing clampdowns on the South Asian foreign labourers in the area are proof of this.

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that a good number of Singaporeans – politicians included – lack two very important qualities: objectivity and emotional maturity. If you haven’t already noticed, angry Internet mobs form more quickly than one can say “xenophobia” whenever a foreigner displays poor conduct, or criticizes Singapore and / or Singaporeans – whether or not that criticism is justified. Brandishing their virtual pitchforks and torches, these angry mobs embark on a relentless pursuit of the critic’s career, family, social circle and, very soon, all his compatriots. An excellent example of this is the Anton Casey fiasco. Of course, Gilbert Goh’s aforementioned nonsensical version of patriotism also speaks for itself.

We humans love a good scapegoat. And since we Singaporeans cannot legally stage a proper protest against government policies we deem harmful, who better to direct our dissatisfaction and frustration at than the very foreigners brought in by the PAP? Also, please don’t tell me to go to Hong Lim Park. That’s where Gilbert goes to sell T-shirts via his vilification of all things foreign. Furthermore, it’s not an effective demonstration if the people whose policies we are decrying are not there to listen.

This is exactly why I refer to Gilbert and his ilk as “emotionally stunted”. They can easily choose not to vote for the PAP during elections, they can organize forums and facilitate open discussion amongst locals and foreigners, they can educate locals and foreigners on important matters…but no. Instead, they choose to rant, rave, and foam at the mouth in their critique of the government’s immigration policies, and of foreigners in general. They choose to perpetuate racist and xenophobic stereotypes in an attempt to rally other Singaporeans to their ill-intentioned cause, all while hiding behind a façade of faux patriotism and national pride.

That Singaporeans have gotten used to a hypersensitive environment does not help, either. Issues of race and nationality are almost never discussed, for fear of offending a particular group of people. We have seen the ills of that: a knee-jerk overreaction every time anyone in Singapore, local or foreign, makes ignorant remarks regarding another race or nationality besides his own. Instead of discussing perceptions, stereotypes and other relevant issues which will lead to greater understanding, many Singaporeans simply jump straight to the offensive, calling for the offender’s termination of employment, arrest, and even deportation. One need only consider the case of Amy Cheong for evidence of this.

One would be naïve to think that preconceived notions (both positive and negative), prejudices and misconceptions do not exist within any given country or society. The truth is, the more diverse a nation’s ethnic, racial and religious communities are, the greater the need for open dialogue amongst those communities to bridge gaps and establish mutual understanding. And in any case, a line must be drawn somewhere to minimize all forms of bigotry.

I understand perfectly the propensity to allow tensions between locals and foreigners to cause disharmony, animosity and segregation, which is why it is imperative that both Singaporeans and their foreign cohabitants put in that extra bit of effort to educating each other about their different cultures, customs and practices. It is no doubt easier to buy into stereotypes, and allow isolated incidents to colour one’s opinion of an entire race or nationality, but the result of that is always dismal. A little more open and honest dialogue, a lot less prejudice and a lot more objectivity and emotional maturity make all the difference.

There will never be a perfect society, but I still believe we can do better than this.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the Gilbert Goh Facebook account on which the declaration of war against the Filipinos was posted could be fake. I do not know who might be behind it, but thanks to his previous displays of xenophobia, no one doubted its authenticity.

Please, Sir – Can I Have Ang Moh?

Last week, our corner of the Internet combusted in a cyber wreck of wanton projection, sweeping generalizations, asinine stereotypes and outraged reactions, thanks to a certain poorly written article by seasoned shit-stirrer Gilbert Goh.

I must admit that I found his latest bout of virtual diarrhoea more amusing than aggravating, and thoroughly enjoyed the responses it sparked from several bloggers, including Limpeh Is FT and Molly Meek. They’ve done a bang-up job of debunking the fallacies of his pitiable whinging, so I won’t bother going down the same path.

No, this is not another response to GG’s most recent own goal. I’d like to give the less ignorant among us the benefit of the doubt and trust we already know that

  • not all Singaporean men are underachieving, lowly educated men-children incapable of attracting Singaporean women
  • not all women from developing Asian countries are uneducated or “domesticated in nature” (contradiction much?)
  • not all Singaporean women who date and / or marry white male expats are gold-digging SPGs
  • not all white men are cultured, eloquent gentlemen, just as not all Singaporean men are uncivilized, inarticulate buffoons
  • interracial / inter-cultural relationships and marriages will not destroy Singapore’s dating scene
  • GG is little more than a troll who panders to xenophobic Singaporeans; do not feed him or his troll minions.

Still, his inane rambling did remind me of my own experience. The ex, a Singaporean I was with for nearly four years, repeatedly accused me of being a SPG simply because I had dated a couple of white expats before I had even been made aware of his existence. His general view of white male expats and local women who dated them was no less scathing — the labels “white dogs” and “SPGs” were used rather often in his self-righteous assessment of them. Sadly, he is far from the only local man I’ve encountered who harbours such resentment towards the demographic in question.

What’s curious is that such vitriol is seemingly reserved for white male expats, or as we Singaporeans tend to call them, ang mohs. For those unfamiliar with the term, “ang moh“, literally translated as “red-haired”, is of arguably derogatory origin. However, it is now commonly used in Singapore and Malaysia to refer to white people and Western culture in general (for current offensive variations of the phrase, please click here).

Compared to a couple comprised of a white man and a local woman, the combination of a non-white foreign man and a local woman would likely attract far less snark from local men. I do not have an explanation for this, but to be absolutely fair, there are local women — and even men — who seem to have Pinkerton Syndrome. Though the term is apparently “dated”, its symptoms are still evident in many Asians. And it doesn’t happen only in Singapore, but in China, too. As per my observations, the telltale signs include:

  • laughing a little too heartily at jokes told by white people (even if said jokes fall flat)
  • incessant proclamation of Western culture as superior to other cultures
  • excessive polishing of ang moh apples
  • (the most nauseating, in my opinion) a peculiar accent that is neither Asian nor European, often coupled with a less than stellar command of the English language

The aforementioned usually elicits the following reaction from me:

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“I have no idea what you’re saying, but your fake ang moh accent is making my ears fold in horror.”

Perhaps it’s some regressive pro-colonialism mentality that causes such behaviour, but as with all generalizations and stereotypes, the widely held view among many local men that local women who date ang mohs are SPGs should be taken with a handful of salt. Some women are more practical than that: they merely recognize a meal ticket when they see one.

Fine, I jest (somewhat). While it definitely takes a considerable level of insecurity for a man to blame an entire nationality of women or race of men for his lack of luck in love, I suppose this is as good an opportunity as any to disprove — or at least challenge — the ang moh-related myths that may be partially responsible for both the fawning of some local women over white expats, and the indignation such conduct inspires in some local men.

Ang moh men in Asia have yellow fever. To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind whenever I read or hear anything about the colours red and yellow is Ronald McDonald, and could I have a Double McSpicy without mayonnaise, please? In all seriousness, though, it’s a free country (hahahahahahaha) and therefore, white men, as well as men of all other races, should be allowed to have as high a yellow — or brown, or black — fever as they please.

Still, it’s ignorant to think every single ang moh is out to chase every single Asian skirt he manages to lay his eyes on. Sure, many ang mohs in Asia do enjoy carnal pleasures with women who are usually in short supply back home (I’ve personally brought a group of Europeans around Orchard Towers in search of “Asian girls”), but it’s probably no different for Asian men in the West. And while I’ve heard local men jump directly to the conclusion that any white man in the company of a local woman just wants to enter her Asian trousers, I can also attest to the reality of purely platonic relationships between white men and Asian women.

Not pictured: Yellow fever (or Pinkterton Syndrome).

Pictured: One of my best ang moh friends and I.
Not pictured:
Yellow fever (or Pinkterton Syndrome). I cannot, however, account for whatever is going on in the background.

In the interest of research, I asked several male ang moh friends living in Asia if, in comparison with their female compatriots, Asian women were more receptive towards them. To my surprise, they all answered in the negative. One of them even said, “I think most Asian women find me intimidating at first glance or avoid me altogether.” Now, what was I saying about generalizations and stereotypes again?

Ang mohs in Asia are rich. Just like not every male Bangladeshi / Indian / Thai national here is a lowly paid janitor / construction worker, not every white person here is rolling in the Benjamins (or pounds, or Euros, or kroner…you get the idea). I know at least one European who moved to Singapore of his own accord and took on a series of middle-income, executive positions before starting his own business. There are also those who come to Asia for academic or professional programmes and end up settling down here after marrying a local. So you see, it takes all sorts.

Here I am with a not particularly rich ang moh friend who has lived, studied and worked in Asia. I am also ashamed to admit that he can read / write Mandarin better than I can.

Here I am with a not particularly rich ang moh friend who has lived, studied and worked in Asia. Also, he can read / write Mandarin better than I can. I hang my ethnically Chinese head in shame.

Then there are highly qualified ang mohs sent to this part of the world to lend their professional experience and expertise to the Asian branches of whichever corporation employs them. Like foreign PMETs in most countries, they are remunerated according to respective industry rates, as well as given a housing allowance. In Singapore, this usually means a comfortably large pay cheque, and relatively fancy digs in the form of rented condominiums. This contributes to the stereotype of the rich ang moh expat, which undeniably draws its fair share of gold-digging females. Of course, that is not to say every Asian woman who dates / marries a rich white expat is a materialistic manipulator. Again, these are all just generalizations that cannot be accurately applied across the board.

Ang mohs in Asia are 24/7 hardcore party unicorns*. After having witnessed enough drunken white guys harassing women / unsuccessfully attempting complicated dance moves / generally disturbing the peace to last me a lifetime of nightmares, I can understand why some Singaporeans would think white people (especially those in Asia) are all about partying till they hook up / pass out / get arrested.

What those Singaporeans may not know, however, is that a good number of ang mohs in Asia actually prefer a mature gathering at home, which normally entails an evening of canapés, soothing music and adult conversation. Inebriation is still pretty common at these little soirees, but this generally involves sitting around debating the merits of Christopher Hitchens’ work alongside that of Søren Kierkegaard’s writings, all while swirling, nosing and daintily sipping a nice chilled glass of chardonnay, instead of destroying public property while plastered and possibly injuring at least one person in the process.

Also, bizarre ang moh party outfits FTW.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what an ang moh political party looks like. But don’t just take my word for it — go find out for yourself.

In Europe, it’s not unusual for kids to be allowed to sample Mummy’s and Daddy’s spirit stash from time to time; growing up, I myself was permitted to share my late father’s beer every now and then. Because of this non-restrictive — but not completely laissez-faire — attitude to alcohol consumption, binge drinking and alcoholism are not major problems in most European countries. All this considered, the drunken ang mohs I’ve come across in Singapore are, more often than not, American exchange students taking full advantage of the lower minimum legal drinking age here (18, as opposed to 21 in the US). Needless to say, I don’t think this is the rule, but the cultural differences are apparent.

In my experience, ang mohs are typically a tonne of fun to party with. Some of them can’t dance to save their lives, but their spontaneity more than makes up for it. However, not all of them are party machines trawling the clubs for Asian women to seduce. On the other hand, the biggest drinkers I know — including yours truly — are Asian: we usually just sit around drinking and trading jokes till someone says or does something to top everything else and the rest of us simply collapse in a collective laughing fit.

As far as stereotypes go, they exist for a reason. Are there rich, borderline alcoholic ang mohs in Singapore who suffer from yellow fever? Of course. But do all white males here fit that bill? Of course not.

As for single Singaporean men who conveniently blame Singaporean women and white expats for the dearth of local women on our dating scene, consider this: grumbling about external factors only serves to make you look even more unattractive. Sure, some women can be downright bitches, but why waste time complaining about them when you can direct your energy towards those who can and will appreciate you? And if you think local women are being lost to men more articulate, educated and chivalrous than you, don’t wallow in self-pity or insecurity. Either be confident in who you are, or do something to improve the aspects of yourself you feel insecure about. And if, even then, any woman rejects you for superficial reasons, well…her loss, right?

So relax, guys. A girlfriend or wife isn’t the be-all and end-all of your existence, and you’ll find that life is so much better when you learn to laugh at stereotypes instead of hatefully perpetuating them. And you know what women find sexier than confidence? Confidence and a wicked sense of humour. That right there is a killer combination.

*because the term “party animals” is just too mainstream

Blind Loyalism: The Demise of Progress

My political involvement has given me opportunities to engage in interesting discourse with all manner of people. Not surprisingly, the most eye-opening and enriching exchanges occur when I interact with politically and socially aware individuals who are open to new ideas.

On the other hand, conversations with die-hard loyalists — regardless of which party they support — tend to go south fairly quickly, often hitting a dead end and necessitating a change of subject to the non-political.

In my experience, a typical conversation with a PAP loyalist begins with him complaining about the cost of living, employment issues, the healthcare or education system, housing prices and / or flawed government policies. Once he has aired his grievances, I ask him why, despite his obvious dissatisfaction, he insists on voting for the same party time and time again. The answer is almost always the same:

“What if I get in trouble for not voting for the PAP? The facilities in my estate won’t be upgraded!”

“I’ve been to both Aljunied and Hougang since they became opposition wards. They are no worse off than the PAP wards.”

“But how do I know any of the opposition parties will do a good job? They have no experience.”

“The PAP was once an untested opposition party, too, you know. If people had been afraid of change in 1965, the PAP wouldn’t be in power.”

This is usually met with a rather defensive rebuttal that espouses the rarity of Lee Kuan Yew’s genius and the lasting power of the party as sound reasons for Singaporeans to keep voting for it.

At this point, I ask the PAP loyalist what he knows about Singapore’s opposition parties. The question never fails to elicit a pregnant pause, followed by a harried reply: “Don’t know lah. Aiyah, just because you are in the opposition, you want me to vote for them, is it? Why can’t I vote for the PAP? 50 years already; they know what they’re doing. You are entitled to your opinion, so am I!”

Depending on my mood, I either change the subject, or point the loyalist to one of my favourite quotes (by American author Harlan Ellison): “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” After all, how can one possibly make an informed decision when he does not have sufficient knowledge of what or who he is voting for?

My observations suggest that such unshakeable loyalism to one party, despite increasingly frequent missteps on its part, stem from the following factors:

Fear

Be it fear of change, fear of dire consequences should they fail to vote for the ruling party, or fear that no one else can govern the country, fear is a powerful tool that has long been harnessed by regimes to keep themselves on top. The PAP has regularly cast doubt over the efforts of opposition parties, and implied that in return for not voting for the PAP, opposition wards will inevitably turn into slums. Even in corporate or volunteer organizations, fear of harsh “disciplinary action” often leads to employees and volunteers being reduced to mere “yes” men and women, afraid of speaking up and affecting change.

Vested interest

Singapore politicians are the world’s most highly paid, and the country is a magnet for wealthy foreign investors. As recently as May this year, it was listed as the world’s richest country; its current GDP per capita stands at S$63,908 (US$51,709). However, among the world’s 16 richest nations, Singapore’s income inequality is the second highest, its private healthcare expenditure the highest, and its average retirement income the lowest. In contrast, its total reserves are the second highest, and its Prime Minister is the world’s most highly paid politician by far, with a S$2.7 million (US$2.2 million) annual salary — excluding bonus. In fact, amongst the world’s top 10 most highly paid politicians, PM Lee’s annual salary alone is higher than that of the other nine politicians combined (more details here).

Much of the country’s wealth is channelled into the government’s investment company, Temasek Holdings, as well as its sovereign wealth fund, GIC Pte Ltd, for a laundry list of major investments. Furthermore, Temasek Holdings has its finger firmly wedged in Singapore’s public transportation pie: it is a major shareholder in SBS Transit Ltd and the world’s second largest transport company, ComfortDelGro Corporation Ltd; it is also the majority owner of SMRT Buses.

In short, a large portion of Singapore’s wealth is confined to the government, its investments and the corporations that benefit from those investments. Government business deals are never small, and local investors and business owners involved in such deals may believe that they stand to lose much, should they oppose government practices or policies. At the same time, it stands to reason that Singaporeans who lead lives free of financial concerns may see no need to challenge the status quo, and so will continue to vote for the PAP.

Overindulgence in nostalgia

I’ve met my fair share of Singaporeans from the baby boomer generation, who, still misty-eyed over the bygone era during which the PAP helped Singapore prosper both economically and socially, revere Lee Kuan Yew as if he were a god and, by extension, vote for the PAP at every single election.

There is no denying the PAP’s instrumental role in Singapore’s success — my parents’ generation enjoyed affordable public housing, a high employment rate and a booming economy. So yes, credit should be given where it is due. Speaking of which, here’s someone who was never mentioned in my history books: Albert Winsemius, without whom we would likely never have had the aforementioned success.

Times have changed, and the PAP has gotten so comfortable in the seat of power it has held for the past 48 years, it seems its top priority now is to stay in power and further expand its already overflowing coffers. Yet so many citizens, especially the baby boomers, seem content to live in the past, even if it means limited access to proper healthcare, affordable public housing and their own CPF money. Experience may be a good teacher, but it counts for nothing if one fails to recognize or acknowledge the need for change.

Mob righteousness

The destructive combination of a mob mentality and self-righteousness is not limited to the ruling party. The prevalence of partisan politics and the lack of openness to the idea of any form of opposition unity are testament to this condition. With the correct application of its resources, a party of like-minded individuals can make itself a force to be reckoned with. But groupthink is insidious — it creeps in and lures the inattentive into a false sense of superiority and, in more extreme cases, infallibility. The likely result is polarization: each party believes its cause and methods to be unparalleled and so seeks to further its own agenda, as opposed to welcoming and engaging in intelligent debate with other parties. This in turn kills any potential for progress, causing society to be stranded in an endless loop of unaddressed issues and compounding problems.

Does the above scenario sound familiar? That’s right — while Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds economically, it has regressed socially and politically. Earlier this year, at the CALD (Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats) Youth Festival in Bangkok, I gave a speech and presentation on the topic. I have since reached the conclusion that little has improved not just because of the PAP and its staunch loyalists, but also because of opposition parties’ puzzling dependence on partisan politics.

It is not just among different parties that such a divide can occur. Even within a party, all it takes is one unit to believe itself superior to those outside its inner circle and therefore, to reject alternative views and ideas. Combined with a god complex, groupthink breeds blind loyalism, even to questionable individuals and ideals. Allowed to fester, it often results in people — and sometimes, entire parties — losing sight of their original purpose.

The antithesis of blind loyalism isn’t the absence of loyalty, however. Rather, it is the careful selection of who — or actually, what — is worthy of one’s allegiance. Humans can be a wishy-washy lot. We can switch loyalties at the drop of a hat and betray those who trust us, all in the interest of self. For this reason, it is infinitely better to dedicate oneself to a cause, instead of a personality or a party.

Many of us join parties that advocate the philosophies by which we abide, or form alliances with those who share our vision, hoping to work towards the greater good of our society and nation. Establishing personal bonds along the way is unavoidable, but they should never prompt us to neglect our primary purpose. Ideological differences do not necessarily eradicate or even diminish the chances of genuine camaraderie, but adhering to a worthy cause can mean distancing oneself from a close friend, or even burning bridges altogether.

It’s always nice to be accepted as part of a community, to feel included and to enjoy a certain level of exclusivity. However, being agreeable does not bring about change. We must know when to stand in solidarity with our fellow man, when to disagree, when to walk away and most importantly, not to be too concerned about the opinions of those who attempt to dissuade us with their own inherent fear.

We must also understand that ideas are more than the men who inspire or endorse them. Poster children don’t stay pretty (or alive) forever, but the brilliance of their creations should never be dismissed. Long after Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi have passed on, freedom and civil rights are still being championed throughout the world, proving that it is not the man but his ideals that demand continuous commitment from those who wish to see progress.

As V said to Peter Creedy: “Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”