Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Entangled Contracts

There is a very convenient way of analysing politics in Singapore. It is what most 101 undergraduates studying political science will be exposed to. It is a seductive way of intellectualising political discourse vis-a-vis Singapore. I am talking about the fabled "Social Contract". That between governance and the governed, there is an implicit social contract where rights of freedom are willingly given over by the governed to governance in exchange for security and stability.

Social contract theory draws its roots from democracy theory founders like Hobbes, Locke and Rosseau and to a certain extent, JS Mill. It has been used to explain and justify the evolution and establishment of liberal democratic systems of governance. At its base, social contract pre-supposes certain assumptions of human morality, or more accurately, human excesses which require limits in the form of governance; albeit an enlightened form of governance under democracy. There are lengthy theoretical disputes regarding social contract theory, this entry skirts them all. Let focus instead and place the Singapore Social Contract under scrutiny.

What is the Singapore Social Contract? Since young, we have been drummed with explanations that Singapore is what it is today because of the economic miracle. For this economic miracle to be achieved, the Singaporean gives up some of his liberties such that Singapore can be rendered stable and secure for its Economy to continue growing. But it is not one-way, the Government guarantees that you will have an education, affordable housing and adequate social services. So that is the Social Contract much simplified. If conditions are met, the Contract and its terms are renewed every four years when Singaporeans go to the polls to decide. The election is a manifestation of Contract renewal. Extending the lease.

Underlying this Social Contract are the assumptions. The assumptions of what will happen if the contract fails. If people do not honour this Contract. Quite simply, the social fabric of Singapore will tear apart. What we know of as Singapore will cease to exist. Our small size, our fragile social harmony will all disappear once the Contract ceases. The Hobbesian spectre of war of All Against All will prevail in Singapore. At the same time, the economic miracle of Singapore will burst. No more growth. No more money. In the Singapore context, only the PAP has exclusive rights to the Social Contract. This has been reiterated time and again. Any other Contract offered to Singaporeans are time-bombs. Scary indeed. Hence, the Contract, manifested as that piece of paper which Constitutes Singapore, the Constitution, has to be treasured. Held sacrosanct for our survival. And us Singaporeans as signatories based on that plactic card, identifying our citizenship, which we call an NRIC, give our acquiescence to take away some of our liberties so that there will be no time-bombs, no wars of All Against All.

But what if the social contract is just a figment of the imagination? What if social contract theory is just a very attractive theoretical grounding to justify systems of dominance? What if the social contrat is an over-determined term? What if, there is no such thing as a social contract in Singapore? That the two words are but empty signifiers devoid of contextual association to time and space? Do we dare think beyond this.

Its only a thought experiment. Lets suppose that there is no such thing as a social contract. Lets consider this possibility : social contract theory was especially attractive during the early years of Singapore's existence, because then, the threats were much closer than now. There were the racial riots. The Cold War was on. Wars in vietnam, in Afghanistan were realities close by. So based on social contract theory, Singaporeans then should have most willingly gave up their liberties in exchange for the security provided by dynamic PAP. But something is not right here. Singaporeans then did fight for their liberties. Singaporeans fought against the imposition of language policies. Singaporeans fought against forced closures of newspapers. Singaporeans fought against forced resettlement. They fought against conscription into National Service. They all lost. But the Government was proved right. Their policies were indeed successes, at a social cost surely, but still successes.

Than we look at today. Where we are still asked to compromise some of our liberties for continued economic stability and security. But surely, the pre-suppositions of an all out war of All Against All can no longer be held up as a justification in today's context? It cannot be held up as resolutely as in the past. but then what of dissent, how do we challenge this pre-supposition? This leads us to the ultimate clincher of the fabled Singapore Social Contract if we look at this logically. By giving up the liberties at the outset, when we "signed" the Contract, we have become toothless to resist each new Social Contract presented every four years. We gave up our liberties remember? thats too simplistic an argument. More accurately, from that starting point of a Social Contract, we signed away the institutions to challenge the Social Contract effectively. There is no break contract clause in the Social Contract. It is illegal and unlawful. It is commonly termed as Revolution. So we are at a point of the Contract where if governance is doing well, we reward them with another contract. If Governance is not doing well, than the assumed Chaos predicates that we sign the same Contract. Chichken and egg? Not even that. There is only the Contract.

The Social Contract in Singapore is a myth. There has never been a social contract. It is but a theory, albeit an attractive one, to justify perpetual political dominance. Until we understand and get it ingrained in us, that there is no social contract in Singapore, it will be impossible to imagine fundamental changes in Singapore. Even foreign observers like the Financial Times slips into this conundrum too as seen in its latest report on Social Contract in Singapore under strain. There is no social contract in Singapore. There is only a political party, a Government machinery and social institutions which have become utterly and incestuously entangled in the governance of Singapore. So entangled that each cannot see a means of survival as independent entities which they rightly are.

Quote of the Day

"The more visonary the idea, the more people it leaves behind. this is what the protest is all about. Visions of technology and wealth. The force of cyber-captial that will send people into the gutter to retch and die. What is the flaw of human rationality? It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the schemes it builds. This is a protest against the future. They want to hold off the future. They want to normalize it, keep it from overwhelming the present. The future is always a wholeness, a sameness. We're all tall and happy there. This is why the future fails. It always fails. It can never be the cruel happy place we want to make it." -- Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis

12 Comments:

Anonymous Parkaboy said...

Also referred to, I believe, as the "authoritarian bargain" - a bargain, all right, as the PAP got Singapore cheap.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent analysis

5:03 AM  
Anonymous red11 said...

And students who have gone through Sociology 301 would have learnt that concepts such as Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Survivalism, are founding myths of S’pore and as rightly pointed out by Xenoboy, are used by the PAP government to legitimize and perpetuate their political dominance.

At what point do such founding myths / concepts cross over from “myth” to reality? When enough people believe them as THE truth and it IS the reality to them?

I do not know the answer. But after reading the transcript of David Marshall’s interview a couple of weeks’ ago, I have been thinking what kind of country Singapore would have been if Barisan Socialis had not boycotted the referendum in 1965 – more political fieriness, a kinder country, lesser economic affluence? Hmm…

5:07 PM  
Anonymous YCK said...

The "Social Contract" must a seductive idea indeed as I know of people who believe that it would be disastrous even if PAP's hold only wavers. Maybe we have grown soft living our cloistered lives possible under the stable government.

All that said, it would be great if you could enlighten us on how the spell might be broken. Broken it must but not too abruptly, lest those who are asleep loathe being awaken.

10:40 AM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...

Social contract or Faustian pact?

at least Faust made his own decision. We are born into a system that few can escape from.

Slaves to CPF, slaves to ERP. All in the name of protecting us from ourselves. Slaves to the economic miracle that is Singapore, and the myth that we will never 'arrive' and become content with our own image and identity.

Thus, are slaves (hamsters?) forever doomed to to race(run the wheel), while paying ERP for the right to run the wheel.

Strong nation, weak people. When institutions fail, there is no plan B. It will just be


GAME OVER


E.o.M.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous LKC said...

Slave no more...

My son emailed me this morning from Australia. He just paid A$150 for the application of his citizenship after living in Melbourne as a PR for 3 years. My daughter who is also holding an Australian PR is planning to do so next year.

I am not even from a middle income. I have to sell my HDB flat to pay for theirs tertiary education. Both had to work part time as delivery boy and scooping ice cream to help pay school fees.

Xeno Boy you are right. One by one Singaporeans are leaving.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post and the comments that follow it. Thank you for helping to free our minds.

9:06 PM  
Blogger prettyplace said...

The social contract does and will exist anywhere and everywhere.....

However,keeping this argument within the Singapore context...

I will say that the PAP is doing it's part although not opitmal for Singaporeans but sure favourable for its own good,......

Look at the immediate policies...KBW churns out something...MOE comes out with broader plans....CDC's looking at wider Singapore to incorporate every needy Singaporeans, which are many.....

So, who is not excersicing...his or her part of the contract.....Singaporeans....,

I must admit, not those from here...participation has began...here.

Out there .....Singaporeans are not even vigilant enough, to know that they have entered into a contract.....

(xeno boy said....the earlier years saw many more discontent people doing something about it....well yes,

they had to, when one's livelihood is in danger, one would fight back....
they saw the contract did not benefit them....

nowadays people just start looking for another job.....even when the bills mount)employmet law...do something...

People must understand...that this social contract is not an abstract term....it is all connected within one structure...our lifes......

no matter what the PAP tells..."we need more talent"
(my nearest foreign talent is selling, chicken rice and making pratas)taste the same...

It is our participation...
Our questioning of not just about ourselves and our families, immediate concern(which is not wrong either...i am just saying, ask further)...but of policies thrown at us.....

This form of participation should start....to excersice one's right as a citizen....as a resident ....around a neighbourhood.....petitions...put up...more white elephants ,i say...


Our governmental institutions have struck us off.....the civil servants.....
they have started, to play to the tunes of the PAP...why...

Every popular issue...goes back to the minister...or the MP to be ironed out...and out he or she comes on CNA.
Give them more of these issues and question them silly...

This has made them look good, certainly, but bombard them...they will certainly look silly....

In a nutshell, I must admit, the fault lies with us, as well.

However....we all realise there is discontent among Singaporeans...but we simply don't have a charismatic leader to drive us to raise these issues....why...

Simply because..we all know and can see what is happening to Dr Chee.....even if anyone tries to be....don't just sympathise with these citizens...donate,if need be silently...

Back to the argument....How do we participate....we can be blogging on & on....but we do, need to at times, disect their policies and give it back to the people to digest, in the most simplest form...That would make Singaporeans know where the PAP is really coming from.....

Citizen journalism has began....to probe deeper....and one good thing....PAP knows we exist...and


we are a threat....hehe

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's every five years not four.

Other than that, nice article.

And fuck the PAP.

Have a nice day.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Galven Lee said...

Marvelous article

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Singapore also reminds me of the birds in the Jurong Bird Park. Many of their majestic, highly prized and trained species, like eagles and hawks are allowed to fly anywhere in the morning. But, they never fail to return at night to be caged and have their ankles shackled. Why? food and safety.

Mousedeers are being released after sufficient numbers are bred in captivity. Rhinos and orang utans are safe from poachers. Except for the polar bear who probably needs a freezer in the wrong climate everything seems fine in the Singapore Zoological gardens, or the Republic of Sg. In the zoo, zebras will not be eaten by lions or slaughtered by warlords. Step out into the state of nature at your own risk.

weil

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your blog. Check again your MMs comments today on the ministerial pay issue. He again brought up the spectre of ruin, etc if ministers were not paid well. He himself earns $2.7M. Apparently it is still a huge sacrifice that he has made.

Not sure why someone did not ask the question - so if you were paid only $1.7M would you not be committed?

Your guys are the smartest dictators the world has ever seen. Have elections. Keep people well fed and comfortable. Tell them that all this lack of freedom is for their own good. That they are too dumb to understand these strategic matters. That they risk losing all if they vote for someone else. Repeat ad nauseum.

Polpot was a goddamn fool.

7:55 AM  

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