Sunday, January 22, 2006

Circles Within Circles

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

"This cohesive society that we have carefully nurtured and kept together for 40 years will be fractured. Racial harmony will be destroyed. Whether or not WP intends for this to happen, this will be the tragic result if they implement these ideas."

The above statement by Minister Ng Eng Hen can be found over at Mr Wang's eminently interesting blog. The seeds of electoral contest in Singapore are stirring. To place matters in context, the Workers' Party issued their manifesto sometime last week and Ng's reply was the first official PAP response to WP's manifesto.

And it is an expected response. It is a chilling response. It is a silencing response. And it is a response of closure.

It is a technocrat's response. It is not a politician's response.

Let’s recover the response.

If in forty years of careful nurturing to build a cohesive society, Singapore has not achieved resilience and remains fragile to fracture, whose failure is that? Singapore was born in a state of emergency and it remains in a state of perpetual emergency, as I have often repeated. Non State-sanctioned narratives and alternative possibilities are fore-doomed to fail because it will fracture the cohesiveness of society, racial harmony. But fractures can heal. If so then, racial harmony will be destroyed. Destroyed is a harder word than fracture. Like a nihil. Annihilated.

When the notion that "racial harmony will be destroyed" is invoked in this manner in Singapore, it is an effective silencing. Time and time again, this sacrosanct of Singapore is raised as a red banner to quell alternative opinions, close off pandora-ic possibilities. Such a reflexive State response is rooted time and again in the State's dialogue (or monologue) with Singapore's past, a dialogue which scripts a two-trackeded narrative. The first of progress, modernity and success of Singapore with the PAP and the second, a narrative of communalism and emergency. And this second narrative fashions and shapes the sense of perpetual peril that grips Singapore.

Questioning is the piety of thought. Why will racial harmony be destroyed? In this case by the scrapping of grass-roots organisations, elected Presidency and ethnic-based organisations and the raising of subsidies. What are the implicit assumptions hidden in such a statement : racial harmony will be destroyed. ? . It is not may, it is not possible, it is a "will". Imperative. Will be destroyed. Its like a hidden formula, a self destruct mechanism that is inevitable. Will be destroyed. Have we spent 40 years carefully nurturing a cohesive society that will be destroyed so easily?

Ng is one of the new Ministers. To provide the renewal in thought and in perspective to drive Singapore forward in this millennium. How then can it be that we fall back on this specter of racial disintegration to address issues of possible renewal? It is very very hard for any Singaporean, schooled so perfectly in the structured box of Singapore to think out of the box. The danger to Singapore is not the danger of racial harmony failing, but that paralysis in thought that occurs when faced with parameters you have little or no courage to question.

The pioneering politicians in Singapore, the LKYs and the Goh Keng Swees, did not act within the parameters which the situation of early modern Singapore presented to them. They thought out of the box and created something, and to their credit, successfully. That ensured the State's survival. But new situations demand new thought and old specters, prior parameters, cannot be so simply invoked to unscript the new.

"Whether or not WP intends for this to happen" -- The innuendoes implicit in this single line is stunning in breadth and depth. Ruminate on this : either way, the WP is either deliberately willing racial disintegration on Singapore or its utter short-sightedness will doom Singapore. In a single imperative sentence, WP has been foreclosed as traders of tragedy.

And Singapore, that sullen child, absorbs this silencing statement in silence. When will the teacher recover that intuitive link with this sullen child? To unravel the cynicism that simmers and flashes ever momentarily into the open as a sardonic smile, a barbed witticism, a sly dig, a cool disinterest, a rational detachment?

Singapore is fragile indeed. Fragile because of this sullen disposition which arises from an unwillingly willed paralysis of thought. And it may be that our survival in today's world hinges more on fracturing this paralysis of thought than the imagined proximity of racial disharmony.

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

Quote of the Day --

"Circle within circle, light within light ... We interpret and defeat their terms with terminus. The night? what of it. It is filled with bestial watchmen, trammeling the extremities and the interstices of the timeless city, portents fallen, constellated deities plummeting in ash and smoke, roaming the apocryphal cities, the cities of speculation and reconstituted disorder, of insemination and incipience, swept round with the dark." -- Samuel R. Delaney, Dhalgren


Blogger locky2ky said...

i don't find that kind of response chilling anymore as it has been used too often.

Singaporeans are also better educated and more exposed and wouldn't be so easily frightened.

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Ted said...

Not so the old ones, I don't know, where do you reckon is the PAP's support base? The mid class? The ones dwelling in the Bukit Timah district? The underclass living in rented flats in Jalan Bukit Merahs? Or the Singaporean females of the society?

3:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you fucking rock.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the WP does not back down from the threatening PAP. Its an all-out media onslaught on the racial WP manifesto while we DAFT singaporeans look on. Irony is that it became racial only because the PAP broguht it up. BTW ur on global voices online, keep it going, need more commentaries like urs

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Luddite said...

well maybe the pap just has a less idealistic view of social harmony. If social relations are left in a state of lassiez faire, people still do tend to hang around their own race more, will probably be more likely to form communuties (flats) composed of members of their own race and in time, more likely to develop loyalty to their own race. This is especially so among the poorer, less educated segments of the population.

Maybe the PAP does not pretend that things are so good so that we can just leave things in a state of lassiez faire, but that relatively speaking, things would be better if we make an affirmative effort to make different races interact more and live together. You may see this as an artificial effort to hide the cracks but maybe they see it as a case where it is better for a person who cannot walk to have a wheelchair than to remain in his/her bed all day long. You may question why there is a need for the wheelchair in the first place but once again, maybe the PAP has a less idealistic view of social relations between races. Look at what recently happened in France or Australia for two of many examples. Maybe to expect anything more at this stage in time would be idealistic.


12:16 PM  
Anonymous Luddite said...

Oh and 'harmony' to you may imply intimacy but 'harmony' to the PAP may imply peace.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear Xeno Boy,

You never fail to give great insights on such little bickerings from PAP. ;)

Yes, the bomb lies in the paralysis in thinking... insightful indeed.

Goh Meng Seng

3:40 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

locky -- the power of words as tools of psychological coercion cannot be underestimated no matter how exposed and educated a person is.

ted -- the support base of the PAP are to me stratified more across generation than class.

Luddite -- Maybe you misread my questions. The entry looks at the coercive quality of Ng's statement. If he had articulated as you had, in that rational, detached, almost logical tone of reasoning, I may have been swayed. Maybe if he had qualified with as many "maybes" as you have, it would not come across as it had. Maybe when i meant harmony, I implied peace as well.

And maybe you have re-stated Ng's points in much more seductive reasoning. Just as maybe, I have questioned Ng's points in a wispy, nostalgic manner suggesting idealism

And maybe, the post is not about being realistic or being idealistic but about reality on the same rhetorical spectrum.

GMS -- thanks and good luck.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Luddite said...

Well I say 'maybe' because we can't be sure what their actual reasoning is, which as you rightfully point out, is a great fault-which is sad because the WP and the PAP are supposed to be engaged in a debate but we have heard nothing (and this could be because of the media) of the WP's reasoning for their proposals while we have also heard no reasoning in the PAP's response to their proposals. We have merely heard blunt assertions. But simply because neither the WP or the PAP have had their reasons for their respective assertions expressed/published doesn't mean they don't possess them or that they are necessarily flawed.

At the same time, I did intend to point out the fact that if it is the case that the PAP simply means 'peace' (or lack of war) by the term harmony, whereas you meant 'peace+close and intimate relations' , it would not be a contradiction to suppose that the peace is fragile and can be easily ruined. It is nevertheless, better than 'war' and is therefore, relatively speaking, harmony. This also means that if the less optimistic view of the natural social state of race relations is justified, then peace in itself would be considered an achievement even if it is an unavoidably fragile one. I'm not sure sure whether this is a fair judgment on the state of social relations- but I sure do hope both the PAP and the WP are sure when they make their assertions. And frankly I think there are far more pressing issues at hand that the WP should be bringing up.

2:50 PM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

ah much better.

indeed agree, "it does not mean that they do not possess them or their necesarily flawed".

so we than analyse the rhetorical devices on the same spectrum .. WP's is a manifesto, it makes its assertions, its election platform (we can argue till death about whether its right or wrong rationally, quantitatively and we will still not arrive at anything conclusive) PAP's is a direct response and it is a political response (similarly if we argue the rational basis underlying this assertion, we will argue till death and it will remain inonclusive)

The battlefield in this debate is not empirical evidence, it is rhetorical verve. My gripe is the choice of Ng's defence on the historical trope of racial (dis)harmony and the invocation of the "imperative".

will shall.

my question is the reflexive use of this trope and the assumption of the imperative.

on the etymology of "peace" and it associations as understood by Minister Ng. Yes ... maybe you are right, but then, we slip into "maybes" again which I am averse to analysing.

As he dictates on a historical trope imperatively, so I question on this inevitability, and also on the re-signification of this trope again and again and again. in another time and age, this trope too was used on nantah.

last lines, conceded. if politicians deal with "more pressing issues", then the world would indeed be a better place.

But we are entering a phase of rhetoric now.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Luddite said...

Well I disagree that the battlefield of the debate is merely 'rhetorical verve' if by that term you mean to say it is more a matter of style than reason. (My apologies if I misunderstood your use of the term) It would be idealistic to hope for conclusive empirical evidence but when you propose and counter-propose policies affecting peoples' lives, the least one can do is to explain why they think it will improve peoples' lives; point out the costs and benefits and let the people decide how convincing they think your reasoning is. Admittedly, it is possible, or at least worth hoping, that some semblance of this might take place during the election rallies. There are many active decisions in life we have to make without any concrete empirical evidence about which choice is the most rational; yet they are still worth our deliberation upon which we then take calculated risks. Yet the people to whom these leaders are accountable to and who must decide which leaders' policies are better calculated risks, aren't going to be able to do as such if all we hear are blunt assertions.

4:41 PM  

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