Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Absent Lives

The illusion of choice in Singapore is nicely summed up by the proposed public transport fare hikes. Would you prefer small increases every year or would you prefer sudden large increases every few years.

This is choice? I would prefer no fare increase unless it is absolutely necessary. And this means that a monopoly corporation in Singapore providing sole public service, puts its public service imperatives before its private sector profitability needs. Raise fare prices if diesel costs rise, fair. What about as quickly dropping fare prices if diesel costs fall?

But I am no economist. There are others who can slice this apart with more finesse and more accuracy. Those who unmask greed better than I.

The illusion of choice in Singapore. The Straits Times and other mainstream media has social responsibility to ensure the stability of Singapore. It must be factual. It must be status quo. It cannot engage in prejudicial reporting. Thats why it comes across as boring. Un-interesting for those, especially the young, seeking an alternative spin. So choice is created. STOMP. Packaged nicely. Nice fonts. Beautiful and mysterious bloggers thrown in the mix. Discussing edgy and raw issues. Choice?

You do not need Opposition in Parliament. The ruling party creates its own diversity for you. Young MPs in jeans and t-shirts. High fives and V-signs. More colorful, greater choice. For you to seek them out, talk to them. They will listen all right. Thats their role. Listen, listen and listen.

Choice? What choice in Singapore? Especially the majority and the minority caught at the wrong end of the income spectrum? What choice is there? Change or die. Accept re-training or die. Stay relevant or die. Accept lower wages or die. These are not choices. These are directives to walk a certain way, trod a certain path. Because there is no other path as dictated in the choice.

So the only choice is to make the individual sacrifice. Wake up earlier to avoid the ERP. Walk to the interchange. Go home later to get more qualifications. Go to night school. Juggle taxi driving at night, during the week-ends. Or that most sacred choice : leave and not come back. The only choices we have are self sacrifice. And this cannot be right in a country which prides itself as a modern enlightened progressive Asian democracy.

And so too every four years when a group of Singaporeans make their choice at the ballot box, they are punished. Vindictively punished by supposed non-partisan institutions of the State of Singapore. Consigned to languish at the tail-end of any Government initiative to improve Singapore infrastructure. This is the reality of choice in Singapore.

In 1979, Edwin Thumboo, Singapore's poet laureate, wrote the following lines :

Despite unequal ways,
Together they mutate,
Explore the edges of harmony,
Search for a centre;
Have changed their gods,
Kept some memory of their race
In prayer, laughter, the way
Their women dress and greet.
They hold the bright, the beautiful,
Good ancestral dreams
Within new visions,
So shining, urgent,
Full of what is now.


In 1979 we can still buy these lines. But in 2006, to borrow the words of a South African poet, when I turn the pages of the Merlion's face, and I read the look in its eyes, I see only absent lives. An absence of life.

The consultative Government lays down all these choices to us. They lead to emptiness and then the choices lead to a unique form of dissent that finds expression in emigration. That finds happiness away from home. A Ulysses or a Odysseus that leaves Ithaca eventually.

An absence of life that is co-inspired with a mainstream media that remains in a stupor. Other than a front headline of fare hikes, there is a remarkable column by senior writer Andy Ho today, an ideational portmanteau which is staggering for what it represents :

For the blogosphere continues to expand. The significance of the fact that publishing on the web has become so easy is that the barriers of professionalism and specialisation have been removed such that 'ordinary' people come to see media production as something they can do and as part of the everyday, according to Dr Chris Atton, a reader in journalism at the Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

As Dr Atton told The Straits Times, participating in this alternative media can 'shape one's political awareness by raising one's consciousness'. How? Liken the activity to glue, he suggested, but one that is subject to refinement to make it a more effective social glue.

The activity itself provides an opportunity to research, write and reflect on issues that impact upon our status as citizens. It also encourages a more thorough going relationship with one's community.

Finally, that communication also works outwardly to government bodies, city councils, business corporations and nonprofits, Dr Atton added.

Essentially then, blogging provides an opportunity for citizens to reflect on their place in the world and develop solidarity with and communicate their needs, demands or desires to others, he said.

At the heart of this activity is creativity. It is not about joining a protest group or going to a demonstration. It is, Dr Atton said, about developing a personal voice through which to make sense of the world, both for oneself and for one's community.

So while blogging may not impact government institutions in radical ways for now, it has the capacity to change the polity in small, indiscernible ways that may accumulate to make a difference - even at the polls - some day down the road.

With Technorati, the blog search engine, showing more than 940,000 blogs that are associated with the search word 'Singapore', it may be high time the Government began to take this more seriously than just chatter.

As seriously as the mainstream media, perhaps.


So the responsible non partisan senior writer is saying that all the effects of blogging in raising political awareness, encouraging creativity and community bonding, a more effective social glue, of changing the polity in small indiscernible ways is not good and requires control?

That government should nip this rising consciousness in the bud by giving as little wiggle room to blogos as mainstream media?

This is a newspaper column of the national newspaper. But it reads like a policy paper for the Government. A journalist is advising the State to exercise greater control of blogos because of the future implications of blogging.

Choice? what choice? when the yellow box is drawn as blatant as this? When a senior writer of the Straits Times can pen this? What kind of Singaporeans do we have?

Flip the pages of the Merlion's face and tell me what you see if not absence. Absent lives.

This National Day, ask not for choice but for change. Simply to lead fuller lives.


Quotes of the Day :

But this lion of the sea
Salt-maned, scaly, wondrous of tail,
Touched with power, insistent
On this brief promontory...
Puzzles. -- Edwin Thumboo, Ulysses by the Merlion


Rough beast, you are neither idol nor ideal.
Your heart is hollow, cold, and open
for admission, but we have nowhere else
to hide our dreams. -- Alvin Pang, Merlign

"And why does it keep spewing that way?
I mean, you know, I mean..." -- Alfian Sa'at, The Merlion

12 Comments:

Anonymous dj pbk said...

"co-inspired"

shakes head haizz, oni u can re-invent such words. hehe

9:53 AM  
Blogger sei-ji rakugaki said...

i tried to looked at the merlion and all i see are hollowed eyes .

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I look at the merlion, and all I see is a contrived tourism mascot, not a national symbol.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i turn the pages of the merlion's face and i see people wanting to escape, run run run

9:26 PM  
Anonymous imp said...

the Merlion is not truly real. it has slightly more substance than white elephants. anything else between the pages isn't either.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WTF is wiggle room? Using such words already indicates passive surrender. There is a lack of imagination here, unable to think big. wiggle room?!?!?!

12:23 AM  
Anonymous benjamin Ho said...

its integrative propaganda at its best...you may want to read Jacques Ellul's work - Propaganda: The Formation of Men's attitudes - a chilling polemical work.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

agree with the imp : the merlion is not real. i would imagine that if it disapperas from our landscape, the Singaporean will just look up and say "huh?" or "har?"

10:35 PM  
Blogger Whispers from the heart said...

The notion of being happy with wiggle room reminds me of worms and tunnel vision.

Andy is aspiring to be lesser than the frog under the well.

8:05 PM  
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12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find your article very disheartening. Brings back old memories. Certainly felt oppressed and helpness when I was there. The Choice is clear. Put up or leave. May still miss the place every now and then though esp when I've spent my childhood there.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What else can you expect from a writer of the NS press?

6:13 AM  

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