Friday, January 26, 2007

Singapore Patriot

The patriot. Whenever I encounter this word, images of the first Gulf War appear in my mind. That missile tearing across the sky, to kill the incoming missile. The great Patriot missile. Self sacrificing missile. This was the first war over Kuwait. The world's first glimpse of Saddam. The beginning of that blood feud between Bush and Hussein. Ended now with Iraq, the son's requeim for his father.

It is patriot that leads me to this entry. This word and how it sits uncomfortably next to Singapore. The Singapore Patriot. Hardly ever mentioned, hardly uttered in a sequence as this. Patriotic we must be, always that little twinge, on that day in August, when young middle and old gather to witness the paean of Singapore-ness in front of the television. But patriot? Singapore patriot? It remains uncomfortable, the words have a little resistance, a little distance between them. Two, perhaps three, more tabs of the space bar?

Singapore apathy, Singapore cynical. The distance is lessened. It trills more fluently. Rolls out more smoothly. But patriot? It is patriot, we explore. Specifically Singapore Patriot. Dotted here and there in this blog are valuable comments of those who have passed by. There is one particular type of comment that never fails to surface. It is those comments which remind me again and again to be thankful that I am not in Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa, North Korea etc. Reminds me that I am in Singapore. This place of plenty.

Are these not patriots? Patriotic? These patriots who see Singapore goodness only as a function of poverty of the Other. This Singapore Patriot, in an age where we have the ability of a global perception, sees only the evil Other and from this, draws sustenance for his survival. It is like Maliki who sees three cases and sees only evil and greed, a choosing to be homeless; is he a Singapore Patriot? Protecting Singapore from these hordes of the false Poor. It is like Lady Justice in Singapore who sees 15 grams as the defense against the menace of drugs and 15 grams as the decisive weight to hang; even as you read this in the morning, another has hanged, another soul sacrificed in our war against the scourge of drugs, another soul deterrent.

Singapore patriot in this reading, exists only as a reflection against evil, against the bad, against the Other. A relationship derived on misery. Singapore Patriot, willed into existence with a mentality of siege, of exclusivity and the threat of the Other. But surely no one would wear ths mantle, the Singapore Patriot, thus defined. Hence, this distance, this discomfort, this blush, when we locate the two words side by side.

The definition of the Singapore Patriot is the preserve of those ism-writers, those who craft the narratives of patriot-ism, those who lyricise the false songs of patriot-ism. They who tell a patriotic story of Col Adnan, of Lim Bo Seng. They who lace the papers with glowing praise of contemporary Singapore, the Singapore system. They who entwine Singapore with the ruling political party. They who humanise the Singapore Patriot. Except that to the horror of some, the humanised Patriot is almost always Chinese, homophobic, xenophobic, stoic and male.

There then arise contestations to define the Singapore Patriot. To re-humanise this creature. This two words that allow them to sit confortably. In the cultural landscape, a growing corpus of Singaporean poetry and literature questioning really, how to love Singapore. How do you love this country in spite of the cacophony of State-driven isms, narratives? They look not at the Other outside of Singapore. But they look into the Other within Singapore. within singapore itself. They bore into this place, this time called Singapore. They find poverty, they find tension, they find unhappiness existing behind the story-boards of the Great Singapore Story.

And only then can Singapore Patriot emerge.

Quote of the Day --

"Don't be cold Englishman
How come you've never said you love me
In all the time you've known me
How come you never say you're sorry
And I do" -- Sinead O'Connor, This is a Rebel Song

Monday, January 15, 2007

Another Brave New World Post

“The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.” – Aldous Huxley

The above quote is taken from the 1946 foreword of Huxley’s book, Brave New World. The foreword itself is an excellent piece of writing with several exceptional insights. This line on propaganda and its effectiveness by its restraint was that which stuck.

Imagine just what the line means. Propaganda is at its most effective and sublime when it is silent about truth. With lies, an elaborate and eloquent machinery has to be set up to propagate the lies, to cover-up, to make them seem real. This is both costly and risky for political powers. Lies could probably work in a world where every one of its citizens is separated from one another; it could probably work in an Orwellian 1984 world of constant surveill. But in modern nations, however cut off, channels of information flow, communications make it hard, virtually impossible to pull off large scale national lies. Propaganda. The swath of violence in pre-independence Timor, in May riots Jakarta, attest to this. No matter how hard Government tried to lie, tried to portray untruths, the reality was quickly presented. Forcing Governmental capitulation.

That’s why, Huxley, writing in 1946 unravels the darkest heart of propaganda. Its not the lies really. It’s the silence about truth. This silence about truth is the most elegant form of propaganda. Imagine, you as a citizen, presented with 99 truths each day but only one truth is not mentioned. It is mute, silent, silenced. The citizen goes on with 99 truths. The citizen has no need whatsoever to verify the silenced truth. Because the citizen does not even know it exists. If it does not exist, how can the citizen find it? How can he prove anything? How can he fight?

For the truth to stay silent. To be silenced. It is not only about controlling all the instruments of media, all the channels of communications and enacting a state of perpetual surveill. As mentioned, propaganda itself can be efficient and un-obstrusive. For truth to stay silent, propaganda has to attain its ultimate goal. To borrow Huxley’s words “the positive sides of propaganda must be made as effective as the negative.” In short, propaganda must make people happy. It must make people “love their servitude”.

To love servitude. How to make people love servitude? Its not about chains and whips. Its about joy in the state of servitude. Its about being content in servitude. Its about a sense of security, a sense of dependence on servitude. This can really only be established with a fundamental revolution in the mind and body of the ruled. This is propaganda in the modern sense. Its not about Goebbels-ic propaganda with all its pomp and paegeantry. Its about this nursing of your soul as a baby, and the slow inscription of invisible tattoos into your body, your psyche as you become adult. Inscription is an important word. To inscribe. Scribe. Words. Thought. Action. Inscription. A script. A story. A narrative. The inscription of the body and soul. Like a tattoo. Like a brand.

Propaganda. Such a simple word when taught in schools. But its hardly that. Its about staying silent about truth. Its about nurturing a love of servitude. Remember that.

Blogos seems fairly prominent recently. Non appearances by political bloggers in BlogTv. A call to unite the blogos and mainstream media by Cherian, to mend the schizophrenia. Another commentary on the divide between mainstream media and blogos by Littlespeck. These are all fairly true. Truths actually. A multiplicity of truths. No one is right nor any really wrong. All this attention around the truth of the blog and its existence.

But the blog is only a medium. The medium delivers a message. The message is more important than the medium. Especially in Singapore. As it enters the Brave New World.

Quotes of the Day –

“The world is stable now. People are happy. They get what they want and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill … they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave … Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability … Happiness is never grand” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“Universal happiness keeps the world turning; truth and beauty can’t” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Weaving a World

The known world for me when I was young was a fairly good world. There was a lot of peace. There were some hard times. But I never felt unsafe. I felt secure. I had an education. Violence was an imagination. The known world as I read the Straits Times was a world of terror, a world of war. And I was ensconced in this nest of safety. With a roof over me. That was the known world. When I took my first overseas trip, with my school-mates for community work, I was given to know how lucky I was. That I was in Singapore. Look at all these poor peoples. Their hopelessness. This was the known world. The world I once knew.

There is a book by Edward P. Jones. It is titled "The Known World". In one of the blurbs, Jones is described to have "woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities." In a very sparse, quiet narrative style, Jones delivers a crushing story. One of the slaves, Alice, feigns madness to survive. Feigns madness to freedom. The sheriff of the county, John Skiffington, almost a hero in the book, disintegrates in a culture, in a society, in a system he is born into. The book is about your body. Your body as a property. When your body is deemed a property, where does your mind go? where does your soul go. Where can they go but into madness? The book is about those who own property and how they reconcile their relations with property which is human. Which is alive. Where can their minds go? Where do they seek righteousness? Where do they gainsay their justification to property? The known world indeed.

For about 5 weeks, I was in a country spelt with ten letters with only one vowel. Internet access was non-existent, but I wrote a fair bit. Prose which will probably fail to cross the bridge to this blog. In this country, as I did my work amongst people devastated by power, by Nature, I saw their happiness still. Their hopes still. Their aspirations still. Its hard and not all of them will make it. But some will. And it struck me that I had long forgotten about being lucky. About being Singaporean in this Othering sense. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my known world. That world of safety. Of security. Of blessed good living. The world I once knew. And I feel no loss.

To Gayle, if I have to sit in a TV panel in front of a Minister, I would have to feign madness. I would have to feign humour when I have anger. I would have to disappoint TSFT. The people who govern Singapore are highly intelligent, achievers in all senses of the word. I believe they see and they know what ails Singapore; but in their weightage of the known world, it is still a good world. That they speak and behave in certain ways is because they have this known world they wish to preserve. A known world that has been fully reconciled.

And this known world will not change because of blogs. We are but footnotes at the moment, which some read but not all. Footnotes to the history of Singapore, annotations to Straits Times' reports, endnotes in a grand meta-narrative. And this is already progress. Its weaving.

Quote of the Day --

"Moses was the first slave Henry Townsend had bought, $325 and a bill of sale from William Robbins, a white man. It took Moses more than two weeks to come to understand that someone wasn't fiddling with him and that, indeed, a black man, two shades darker than himself, owned him and any shadow he made." -- Edward Jones, The Known World