Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Mythic Creature Known as the Conservative Singaporean


Its that time of the year in Singapore when the State demands your patriotism. Hang your flags. Wear red. clamp your fist against your chest. National Day. For a few years running in Singapore though, a counter cultural festival has been occurring around this time as well. Its called Indig-Nation. This Festival is organised by the gay community in Singapore. Its about the only systematic series of activities in the calendar year in which the Singapore gay community attempts to cross the barriers into Singapore consciousness, to make the transit into physical space, graze society.

When this happens, the state messaging machine chugs into life. Crusader against gays, a Minister Balaji will make his routine association between gays and HIV/Aids. Horror of an invisible virus stamps into our psyches. Then the other bogey is invoked. This bogey is more insidious and more sinister. This bogey is that creature known as the "Conservative Singaporean".

This is a mythic creature that appears ever so often in our lexical landscape. It is a terrifying creature, this "Conservative Singaporean". This creature does not like deviance. It thinks gays are monsters. This creature does not like change, it wants stability. It wants the state to continue delivering the goods. This creature forsakes some of its freedoms so that society can be safe. So that we can walk the streets at night without fear. Occasionally this creature crops up in the Straits Times. The "Lionel De Souzas" who define Singapore consciousness, establish its parameters, banish the differents.

The State messaging machine will utter the tagline : "We are basically still a conservative society. Conservative Singaporeans are still not ready to accept gays into society". At the same breath, foreign workers are cabling intelligent nation Singapore into a super information highway. Children barely across the age of seven blog and maple story their lives into a global circuit world.

Who is this "Conservative Singaporean"? Where does (s)he live? This creature that is so common but yet so powerful in Singapore that the State actually defers to. The State actually considers for this "Conservative Singaporean". I have only caught glimpses of this creature, it is almost extinct in my eyes. But yet, I must be wrong. Because the State says that this creature is the defining embodiment of Singapore society. If so, this creature must be in abundance.

Google "gay scene singapore" and you will see a flourishing cyber-community which has built a resilient network in the virtual world. Do the same for "conservative Singaporean" and you see XenoBoy top of the list. The Conservative Singaporean is as elusive as that Lion that earned Singapore its name.

It gets more confusing. There are times that the State actually laments that Singaporeans are too conservative. Not enough creativity. Not enough razzmatazz to take on the brave new world. Hence, they change the education system. Enough of the stuffy, straight Singaporean. Lets have some creativity. Dance on the bar tops.

But when the envelope is pushed to the State. In the form of Indig-Nation, in the form of a vibrant political culture. "We are basically still a conservative society".

Lets be seditious. Lets think. Is it possible that there may actually be more gays than conservative Singaporeans? Can it actually be a case that there are more Singaporeans at the fringe of Singapore than in the empty center?

The conservative Singaporean is like foot-steps on water. It makes an imprint and disappears. But it ripples across the Singapore consciousness to win acquiescence. To deny the reality of the existence of gays in Singapore. Not even a yellow box for gays. The community has no space in physical Singapore, existing only in poetry, plays and acts of fiction, of artifice. ghost shells only in Singapore, free only out of territorial Singapore.

Indig-Nation indeed.


Quote of the Day --

"The bed was empty. She'd known it was empty all along but was only catching up ... she walked into the room and went to the window. She opened it. She threw the window open. she didn't know why she did this. Then she knew. She wanted to feel the sea tang on her face and the flow of time in her body, to tell her who she was." -- Don DeLillo, The Body Artist

17 Comments:

Anonymous Parkaboy said...

Unfortunately there is a very real and very prevalent breed known as the conformist Singaporean, or shall we say the superstitious Singaporean, who in the absence of any of the evidence you here demand is all too willing to believe, and to perform sacrificial rites in the name of, the conservative Singaporean. It's a nice way for them to sound reasonable: they can simply adopt the position of the technocrats they ape, and claim to be looking out for the interests of someone else, when they're basically shit-scared of encountering anything different from their (most limited pictures of) themselves.

And so we make our nation smaller and so we make our conceptions of our nation smaller and so chicken follows egg follows chicken in a ratchet, in a tightening noose. Someone needs to push the fucking egg off the wall.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous waterchild said...

I sometimes feel sad for Singaporeans. They deserve the government that they get. There had been a lot more opposition efforts at the last GE than at any other GE. Yet, the count remains at 2.

I read 'conservatism' as 'fear'.
They hear the thunder clap in the distant and they immediately fear that the lightning will strike them too.

They have too much of their assets tied to their good life now and fear switching will lead to their assets turning to ashes.

They don't know what is good or bad for them. And don't care.

I believe in the cycle of life. What had come will one day go. And new things will come in its place.

Those who are blessed to see the cycle can help those who do not see it.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Trabant_er said...

heh. u are "counter-discoursing".

I particularly like the label "creature" being placed on the "conservative singaporean".

A real bogey indeed.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Maynard said...

So when is being conservative a sin?
Is it wrong to lament when men turn into men for carnal pleasures? Or when women reject their motherly roles to raise a family and murder unborn children in their wombs so that they can be "liberated"? These conservatives are also objecting about the evils of gambling. Neither do they approve of "social" drugs, which we are led to believe, are part and parcel of high society living. Bar-top dancing belong to the twilight atmospheres where ladies of the night prowl for testerone charged credit card paying customers; official endorsement does not make it any more family friendly. The R(A) rating doesn't make the hideous rape scene in "Irreversible" any more artistic. The conservative Singaporean also have a distaste for highlighting religious differences. Why can't be left alone to pray to our own gods? Don't confuse conservatism for docile servitude. The upright also rejects oppression, they just don't wrestle in mud.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, being conservative is not a sin, but this is a good opportunity for us to be precise about (a) what we are conservative about, (b) why we hold these views and (c) how we can express these views ethically and empathetically.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:31 AM  
Blogger Hades said...

I have addressed issues like this numerous times, both on my site and face to face with people.

I get this vibe from Singaporeans. They are just too caught up in whatever they are doing to give a damn about anything until it affects them personally. The average Singapore has a very high tolerance for social injustice and can put up with a lot of crap and even rationalize it as right. I come from a country where even half these things the government here shoves down our throats would be met with very stiff opposition.

What surprised me about Singapore is that despite it being such a large manufacturing base, strikes were virtually unheard of. Now the right to strike is the only right a worker has to protest injustice. With that taken away what can he do?

Now what has all this got to do with the issue at hand? I find that Singaporeans are, as a result of this dehumanizing, some of the most narrow minded people I have EVER met. Their ignorance of global issues is shocking. Their awareness of their own political issues are even more shocking. More than 80% of the people I know don't even know who their MP is! And I am working in a field that is filled with graduates and masters degree holders. Singaporeans also suffer from this mentality that they are somehow exclusive. The same old canard, "oh we are a multiracial society so real democracy will cause racial riots", "oh we are a small country so we cannot have too much freedom" are trotted out to attempt to answer every question on the state of affairs.

I hope this changes with time or Singapore will end up becoming a country with very wise fools.

Hades, the Evil Atheist
www.evilatheist.com

1:32 AM  
Anonymous W said...

The mythic conservative replies:-

What areas do you wish to improve,
Not all progressive solutions improve, likwise the main principle of conservatism is ton allow small changes so as to let society find its own equilibrium.
As to name calling of conservatives, please look up Locke, Adam smith or even Ayn Rand.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Hermes said...

To me, the "conservatives" is your family that you hold dearest to your heart and your own yardstick of what is morally right or wrong. It has nothing to do with what the government preaches.

What of the only son telling his parents that he is gay and that their only hope of grandchildren is either through adoption and they are never going to be able to celebrate his wedding for him?

Are you going to tell your mother who is dying of cancer, that her son/daughter of so many years, is never going to marry because he/she is in love with another man/woman?

What of the father lusting after his son? Or the mother lusting after her daughter?

How far will you go to be declared "non-conformist"?

The pride scene in Singapore is an event for the prolific amongst us. While it is a stand, please do not beautify it or paint it as a process of gaining enlightenment or being 'released'. Making a conscious choice to be gay is never easy or painless.

Someone questions why we hold certain views. I would like to ask instead, why do you think the West has a better and more democratic system than ours? If you are talking about tolerance towards gay people in the West, I would like to remind you that up to now, no Western country has successfully incorporated the 'Third Sex' in their everyday life like the Thai people. But yet, we only mention Thailand briefly. Nor do we ever want to incorporate part of Thailand's legislation into ours.

Why, I ask?

Xeno doesn't like categorization but whenever we do these "East" versus "West" discussions, you may want to rethink this stand. Are we not categorizing when we use terms like "East" and "West"?

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Parkaboy said...

We could spend hours arguing about this, not necessarily fruitfully, so I'm a little anxious about saying anything, but a few points:

Maynard - let's skip the question of whether there's anything 'wrong' about being conservative for now. What Xenoboy was talking about was not conservatism in individuals but the government using the supposed conservatism of a large mass of Singaporeans in order to restrict the way other Singaporeans, especially gay ones, might fulfil their aspirations. You say not to confuse conservatism with docile servitude. Some of us might say, don't use conservatism to keep other poeple in a state of docile servitude.

Hermes - Where did this "West" thing come from? If Western countries have not been inclusive to transgendered people, so much the worse for Western countries. It has no bearing on whether Singapore's failure to be inclusive to gay people is a problem.

I have no doubt that some parents are made unhappy by their childrens' homosexuality. But has it occurred to you that perhaps they are the ones being selfish, if their acceptance of or happiness in their children is tied specifically to the use of their children as baby-making machines or participants in a heterosexual ceremony? What about the happiness of their children? Who has it worse:

1. Parents - no grandchildren in the later stages of their lives, or
2. Gay children - doomed to loneliness or empty relationships with people they feel no deeper connection with? For their entire lives?

More importantly, there are all kinds of pains created by perfectly legal behaviour. It's legal to jilt someone without consequences. It's legal to lie and deceive without consequences. It's legal to disappoint your parents through choosing not to have grandchildren despite your own heterosexuality, without consequences. From a policy point of view, the kind of pain parents experience from not having grandchildren on account of their childrens' homosexuality is arguably completely analogous.

1:16 AM  
Anonymous shitfuck said...

Conservative = Master at converting ancient beliefs into modern bigotry and oppression.

P.S. Homosexuality isn't a "choice" anymore than it is a "disease" or even worse, a "sin"

8:02 AM  
Blogger Trabant_er said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:02 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

ahaha, first :

Maynard : Exactly. You declaim the responsibility for the particular conservative Singaporean that is invoked by the State. That is precisely the 1st level of the post. Rest assured I have little grudge with conservatives or conservatism. And you have not sinned.

W -- As like Maynard, you have outlined the conservative agenda. small changes but still change nonetheless. As I said, this post is nothing about conservatism as an ideology or as a practice. As for name-calling, yes I am familar with them but perhaps puzzled as to Locke when Burke would be a more fitting person to front the conservative Idea.

Hermes -- There is no east west in the post. Only in-out Sg. A family 's response to a gay child cannot be entangled with the State's recognition of a gay citizen. It is two different levels and I do not think at the family level, it is a question of conservatism, there is more than that at play as you so hint in your comment. I did not in the post wish to venture into the family. Yes, indignation is for the more prolific, while the some of the silent prefer to keep it silent. I cannot pretend to fully understand this desire to stay silent nor do I wish to probe it. I make no attempt to beautify what may be ongoing tragedies, but I do attempt to uglify the rhetorical devices employed by the State when they are guilty of it. And last, I do know one thing. There is a group of Sinaporeans who happen to be gays, who happen to have a community but is rejected existence in the physical world because of an unchanging reason/bogey. And perhaps this reason/bogey is arbitrary.

The conservative Singaporean was btw overruled in the IR debate.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Trabant_er said...

To W: Quote - "likewise the main principle of conservatism is to allow small changes so as to let society find its own equilibrium"

I do not understand what u meant by equilibrium of the society. Is there such a phenomenon? What kind of equilibrium are you referring to? That is pretty vague to justify the "conservative" stance to allow ONLY small changes. Pushing it further, what exactly put "them" in a position to ALLOW these small changes in the first place and (2) to select the kind of changes as well? I dare to venture that ur statement admits that the primary imperative of the "conservatives" is to maintain the status quo such that their own worldview remain intact and sanctified.

I believe the whole point of Xenoboy’s post is never about name-calling of the “conservatives”. It has to do with the futility of names. What’s on earth is a conservative, liberal or conformist anyway? Social interactions and humans are too complex and heterogeneous to be fitted in such neat labels. For example, a “conservative” that views gambling as evil can be gay.

We subscribe to different worldviews at different part of our lives, at different situations. “Conservatives” parents can come down real hard on his/her gay neighbour but they may have different thoughts when it comes down to applying the same yardstick on his/her son. Because they know that his/her son is not carnal, evil or diseased. They just know.

These neat labels must not be used to justify marginalising acts on the “others”, even from a policy point of view. That is why the “conservative” Singaporean is a creature, a BOGEY.

Talking about names-calling, I like to share this article about US politics in which the author asserts: 1.) Conservatism has failed. 2.) Conservatism is the ideology of the past—a past we don’t want to return to. 3.) Conservatives are cowards, and they hope you are, too.

Click here

9:33 AM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...

The "conservative singaporean" lost in the IR debate due to the economic fears of being left behind in this ratrace the world is running.

Funny then, how when research on how 'gays' a.k.a the creative class (Richard Florida's research) have been considered an integral element towards the creation of a Knowledge-based economy is done, the government still likes to trot out the "conservative singaporean" to limit repealing section 377. Is it any wonder we continually face problems trying to attract creative brains to work in unliberated Singapore? That SG is "boRinG?!"

Even the country where we inherited that archiaic victorian era law has repealed it. Btw, gays can also be in 'civil partnership' and have spousal benefits.

Pithy that as an ex-colony, we still seek to be more puritanical than our ex-colonial masters.

Yes, we do deserve the government we get. But at the same time, the government has also figured out how to continue being the government that Singapore gets at every past GE.


E.o.M.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Trabant_er said...

Oops, the correct hyperlinking.

Click here

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Oh, I'm late.

"There will be those who say this is wrong, it's a sin, not just a crime but a sin”- LHL in the same lunchtime interview where he proclaimed the government not homophobic.

Maybe conservative Singaporeans only exist amongst the fundamentalist Christian rightwing.

"So when is being conservative a sin? Is it wrong to lament when men turn into men for carnal pleasures?" - Maynard, from above.

It certainly isn't a sin to be conservative, because the Bible doesn't say so. But lamenting when "men turn into [sic] men for carnal pleasures" is vaguely homophonic. In fact, it's the same as lamenting when men turn to women for carnal pleasures, but I'm sure such parallels don't exist from a Christian perspective, where we revel in a conflation between homosexuals and pro-life (presumably radically feminist) women.

10:27 AM  

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