Thursday, December 07, 2006

Freedom Deserved?

The warden looks at the prisoner and unlocks his chains. The prisoner remains motionless. He makes no attempt to remove his chains.

"Your chains are unlocked". He says.

"I know". he says.

"You can move freely without the chains." He says.

"I am afraid of myself. My capacity for evil. My capacity for wrong-doing. The chains have to remain on me. It is self regulation." he says.

"No. Self regulation is for you to move freely with invisible chains around you. You have to always imagine these chains. They need not be there. Your imagination that they are there is enough. That acts as self regulation. Thats why I unlock the chains. You do not value your freedom? You do not want to be able to determine your movement? Your right to move?" He says.

"I have forgotten what is freedom. I do not know what it means anymore. What I know is that I am irresponsible. I am a wrong-doer. And thats why the chains are clapped on me. It is for my own good. What is freedom if I remain evil? Removing these chains will not absolve the evil in me. The presence of the chains reminds me that I am not perfect, I am not good yet. In your eyes. That is the point. Even if the chains are imagined, it is imagined on the presumption that I am still not good. Evil. Irresponsible." he says.

"Without the physical presence of the chains, it represents progress in you. Self enlightenment. It represents that you are on the path of good. It demonstrates that you can self-regulate. It demonstrates restraint, your capacity to battle against the evil tendencies in your heart. It is an improvement in you." He says.

"By transferring the chains into my mind. By imagining the chains on myself voluntarily, is it not a more insidious imprisonment? Is it not worse? With the weight of these physical chains on me, it symbolises my evil nature, reminds me that I am bad. There is no worse that can happen. If I imagine the chains, how can I know that I will not misjudge the weight of the imaginary chains? If misjudged, I live then in perennial fear that the real chains will clap down on my shoulders again. I have been dangled freedom. In truth, the removal of the chains into an illusory form will weigh me down two times heavier than the real chains ... Don't you understand?" he says.

"You are far from rehabilitated." He says.

"In your eyes, I am evil." he says.

"You don't deserve freedom." He says.

"Freedom is not something to be deserved." he says.

And the warden locks the chains again. And the prisoner goes on dreaming.

Quotes of the Day --

"To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law - a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security"

"Due process, they call it ... Due process of mass, state sponsored suicide. With all of society's blessings." ... Well, it's certainly better than letting them die horribly, by degrees ... It is? Better for whom? The street cleaners? Better to have your living corpses walk to a central disposal station while they can still walk? Less public spectacle? Less horror lying around? Less disorder? A few million corpses lying around might start a rebellion against those responsible. That's what you and the government mean by better, isn't it?"

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And Equality For All

To be a citizen of Singapore, it means you submit yourself to the political system of totalistic control. You take on the citizen responsibility of defending Singapore. Of course as a citizen, you will also enjoy subsidies and the hand-outs which the Government doles out during election time. As a PR, you may lose out on some subsidies but then, you are also not liable to be tied down to a totalistic political system and you are not obliged to defend Singapore. You actually enjoy as many subsidies as most citizens. Which is precisely why citizens are feeling short-changed by this foreigner syndrome. The costs of being a citizen outweigh the costs of being a PR.

To finally address this issue, this divide, PM Lee has announced that PRs will no longer enjoy the same breadth of subsidised Government services as citizens. The costs of being a PR will be made higher. So that citizens will feel more privileged, more Singaporean. It sharpens the divide, privileges the citizen by penalising the PRs. Not that citizens will feel any substantial difference, for us, the status quo is maintained. We will pay the same amount, take up the liabilities of citizenship. We are made "better" in the sense that PRs will be made to pay more for refusing the liabilities of citizenship.

That punitive difference meted out to the PRs is very loosely then, the equivalent of the liabilities of citizenship. It is the measure of our circumscribed political rights and for males, our sacrifice of two years conscription and a minimum 13-years reserve military liability.

And it can be safely assumed that the punitive difference will never be qualitatively equivalent to the liabilities of citizenship, particularly Singapore citizenship. This bridging of the divide, through a punitive sharpening against the Other is supposed to make citizens happier? Behind this very political move is a worrying syndrome. That of pleasing a group of people by punishing another group. It is a warped privileging of the citizen. Almost nasty. It is typified Singapore governance.

There is another alternative. It is by sharpening the divide through privileging the citizens more, reducing the liabilities of citizenship. Then, the PRs will see that it is wonderful to be a citizen. And they will want to be a citizen, be part of the system whole-heartedly.

But more privileges for the citizen? It is a political anathema in Singapore, is it not? It smells of welfare. It smells of dissent. it smells of liberalism. It smells of political rights. It smells of freedom. All of which are pandora-ic political lexicons in Singapore. Uttered with sneers in cocktail parties, spoken with embarassed smiles in public forums. Lexicons which are always enclosed by the invisible parentheses when mouthed in Singapore.

So we are left then with one alternative, one vision for Singapore. And that is to fall back on the vaunted Asian values of our society. We make all equally miserable. So that the miserable citizen can look at the miserable PR and feel gratified : "At least he is as miserable as me!" Or : "Hah he is more miserable than me!". And the miserable PR will have to whip out his calculator and measure just how much, how worthy it is, in dollars and sense, to apply for the great Singapore Citizenship.

Quote of the Day --

"All applicants for citizenship must be of good character, have satisfied the residential requirement and have the intention to reside permanently in Singapore. They must also be able to support themselves and their dependents financially.", ICA guidelines for Singapore Citizenship Application

PS : For those who think me the master complainer, the ultimate hypocrite, for those who are impatient, who want action, who want change, I can only say that we have to first, regain the space, even for hypocrisy, to speak; because the space, even for hypocrisy, to speak has been denied us. Which is why we hear the all these signals, even hypocrisy, in the main media without a challenge. Second, with a foothold in this space, we populate it with lexicons, with words, which meanings were lost in the past twenty or thirty so years. Then, it will be the time when a word is uttered, the action follows simply because the meaning is known.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Age of Wonder

Imagine if on that night, through some strange intervention of fate, Singaporeans voted differently. Not much differently. Just perhaps that 10% in Aljunied. If on that night, a PAP GRC had fallen, would Singapore be so rosy today? The economy has burst into full flower, employment appears to have disappeared, growth rates are beyond expectations, bonuses are aplenty, prices can go up, Ministerial pay can be increased. Everything is rosy. So positive. Because we have able captains helming the ship. Directing the battle. An elaborate manufacture of consent which most have anticipated but none can speak of.

But what if, fate intervened on that night? Would Singapore be more gloomy? Would there be cut-backs? Would the people have to be reminded the importance of having a political party in totalistic control of Singapore? Or would there be a case even of change? That the ruling regime will re-think its approach to governance? To become more caring? More fair to Singaporeans? More symmetric to the heart of the people?

The question is : if on that night, the unexpected had happened, how would consent be manufactured?

Would the GST hike and welfare for the poor be juxtaposed so blithely? Would raising Ministerial salaries even be heard in the public domain in so cavalier a manner?

These are the possibilities which slipped us after that night. These possibilities of change, possibilities of disjunctures in the relentless linearity of the Singapore political meta-narrative. Think back to that night, when you felt alone. When you did not know that you stood on the cusp of change. When History had congealed itself into a monad of multiple possibilities, a juncture where change was possible.

I like to think that it was that knowledge-less while we stood on the brink to decide change which allows the Singapore political meta-narrative to resume normal service. A knowledge-less created by the stifled structure of Singapore's information and communication pathways, a knowledge-less created by the variegated and compartmentalized social strata of Singapore which alienates the political community and champions the loyal employee.

But there is a sadder side to the story which is not about the structures of Singapore political society. It is about us as Singaporeans who know we are on the brink and who shy away from change. It is about Singaporeans who cannot see beyond the present because they cannot or do not want to look beyond. It is about Singaporeans who live to live. it is not wrong but it is sad.

Or perhaps, we are only still at the Age of Wonder. After moving through the age of struggle of regimentation to achieve economic success, we are now languishing in the Age of Wonder. The politics have changed surely since MM Lee relinquished his Prime Minister's office. A kinder gentler Government under SM Goh. A open and more creative regime under PM Lee. And we remain in the Age of Wonder. Reveling in the limited freedoms, but nonetheless still freedoms, now accorded us. Learning to speak out, to speak up. Speaking only to speak. Learning to listen. Listening to listen. Still enjoying these freedoms which only really came about in the 1990s, abetted definitely by the revolution of the Internet.

Beyond the Age of Wonder is the Age of Action. That period in time when presented by the moment of congealed History, the Singaporean is in full knowledge that his choice really matters. That he stands at the juncture of history. To disjuncture the Singapore political meta-narrative. And his choice rests on courage. On embracing a political meta-narrative that is unscripted. Unknown even. Because the other option is a mapped and charted meta-narrative. Of PAP Singapore. How it will hub this and hub that, wire this and wire that. A meta-narrative that lives your life for you. You just need to follow its path. Your life is mapped from cradle to grave. Some promises will be broken but it will not kill you so long as you work hard and abide by the rules of the map. Faced with this clear, shining and right path, would Singaporeans go for the unlit, the unknown? As others before had chosen when they make their choice to leave for the unknown? This is the Age of Action. And if during this time, the majority opts for the known then so it shall be. There will be no age of schisms in Singapore in today's world; the world is too global for that. It will become instead the Age of Leaving.

There is a movie "Battle of Wits", which Loy from SingaporeAngle has done a good commentary on. Toward the end of the movie, the two protagonists engage in a discussion amidst the backdrop of a fierce battle in the city. The Mohist strategist asks the opposing General why he chooses not to retreat to keep his life. The General replies that even if he lives, it becomes a life devoid of meaning. The Mohist strategist is defeated for the only time in the movie in that one scene, I think. The strategist chooses to live because he has found meaning. Except that the meaning that keeps him alive has a tragic end unbeknownst to him. The movie has a sad ending ultimately. Political power always triumphs. The meta-narrative is retained.

Quote of the Day --

"In the highest sphere they blasphemed against Heaven, in the middle sphere they blasphemed against the spirits, and in the sphere below they oppressed the people. Thereupon the will of Heaven proclaimed: "From those whom I love these turn away and hate, and those whom I want to benefit they oppress. Their hate of men is without limit and their oppression of men the most severe." And, so, they were not permitted to finish out their lives, or to survive a single generation. And people condemn them unto this day, calling them wicked kings." -- Mozi, The Ethical and Political Works of Mozi, Book VII, Chapter XXVI, "Will of Heaven (I)"