Monday, August 18, 2008

Terminal Loops

Its that rally speech again, littered always with captivating words, moving promises, prelapsarian anxieties. statistical suasion. Not the chest-thumping jingo-jingle of Lee Hoong's Pax Singaporeana, but the calculated sensibilities of practical reason. A rally always of implied shifts, always heralding that slip of change, winds of change. Holding us captive, captivated that perhaps ... just perhaps ...

Inflation? Do the math and you're really not so worse off. ERP? But there is your car, a dream Corolla, gleaming at the parking lot. What wants remain unfulfilled, how far the subsistence line when three billion dollars were pumped out to you and to me? Read the numbers, do your sums, what wants have not been met? The numbers don't lie, your mind tricks you. So the rally goes. Boring deep in our heads. Awaking our rational conscience, changing our minds, seeding change through a reinstatement of status quo, reinstating the state. The stubborn Singaporean, too greedy perhaps? Expectations maybe, just maybe a little too high? Forgetting the benevolence of the king? The ground shifts, the position changes, the angles are re-configured and dreams of a rainbow Singapore re-surface. First class education. Another brick in the wall.

A sensible seduction, a re-dressed opening up. Pushing the infamous "boundaries". Opening up, blooming, hundreds of flowers ... wait, a wrong memory, another rally, another time, the same message. Collapsing memory, collapsed rallies. Push the boundaries, when only You can see it while they remain always invisible, amorphous, sinously sinister to us, the un-productive citizens. Push the boundaries, but where are these spectres, these lines, these conditions, when only You can will their appearance, wield that axe that makes us yield?

Opening up? More freedom in cyberspace! More politics in cyberspace! Freedom during election time! Seductively re-dressed as opening up, as liberalisation. When it is already free. When it is already was. What opening up when it already exists? How to open this space when it was always already open, in spite of, despite of the porous legal barricades erected to ring-fence it?

Engage you. Engage me. Engage ad nauseum. Renege. Engage. Renege. Renege. Renege.

When all you have to do is listen. Forget engage. Listen. Listen to the voices in cyberspace. Listen hard in your facebooks, youtubes, flickrs, blogspots, wordpress. Listen to that sound, vaguely familar? Listen to all that text, all those pixels and you may remember a Singapore that has gone underground. Recall a vibrancy, a hope, a future, a discourse, long extinct in physical Singapore. Listen, forget engage, forget rally, forget speaking. Listen to this raucous slipstream, this digital babel of wired Singapore and you may re-discover the continuities of Singapore past, present and future.

The rally speech, an annual discursive masterpiece, piping us like little children merrily to wonderland. A textual orchestra of sensible cadence, reasonable rhythm, looping and re-looping like that hypnotic techno riff that is re-mastered, re-assembled, re-presented as new music this year, next year and next and the year after next. A rally like last year's rally, like last year, and last year and the year before last and that last year.

Inflation. Babies. Angbaos. FT. Economy. Opening up. New Media. Inspiration. Success story #1, #2 ... Economy, economy.

Our minds, conditioned again. A condition of nervous anticipation. We smell something in the air. Hint of change. Something different. Conditioning our senses, always expectant, always dissonant. Conditioning our anxieties, always compliant, always reliant.

A terminal prelapsarian loop in an event horizon imagined as Pax Singaporeana.

Quote of the Day –

“The Hinkypunk is a strange will-o’-wisp which stands on a single leg and consists of evanescent whorls of smoke. The Hinkypunk supposedly hops around with a lantern, which the creature uses to lure anyone walking nearby to fall in a ditch, stumble into a bog, and so on. While this creature may sound somewhat preposterous, genetic science has come up with a plausible explanation for its existence: The Hinkypunk could be a swarm of bacteria in a puddle of bog water. When this colony grows to a certain size, it can give off a flash of light to confuse any innocent passerby.” – The Science of Harry Potter, Roger Highfield

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Remaining Time

You are born in KK. You go through pre-school. You go through kindergarten. You enrol in a primary school. Tuition classes begin. Extra classes in English, ballet, piano, on top of normal curricular subjects. You sit for your PSLE. You enter the secondary school based on your PSLE results; if you fail you enter the ITEs. You study hard through O'levels, you go to either a polytechnic or JC. Or your education can end here. Or if you are really good, you through-train to A'levels. For the boys, you go to NS. For the rest, it is university or work. After university, you work. You find a mate. Get married. Get a place, probably HDB. Take a loan. Work through 40 plus years. Attend weddings, attend funerals. Probably watch thousands of movies. Go for bbqs or blading at East Coast Park. Make love. Go for holidays. Have children. You retire at 65 plus. Collect your CPF. You get sick. You pass away. Your ashes finally laid to rest at Mandai columbarium.

And along this life process, the Singapore political system, through its institutions and instruments of the state, imbibes you with the proper values, the proper beliefs, the proper behavior. Your outlook is schooled, your life road submitted to the vagaries of the needs of this Singapore system. Engineers, biomedical, life sciences, PPE, MBA. As this system requires, so too the available paths on your life path. As the system requires, so your humanity is gradually leached. As this system requires, so you become that little more de-humanised.

What is there to cherish in Singapore? Its a simple answer. Your life outside the system. Your tranquility in those moments of peace when the system's tentacles cannot reach you. Your secret exercise hang-out at Seletar reservior. Your secret fishing spot at MacRitchie. Your little overgrown garden. Your balcony on a crisp early rain-washed morning. Your session in front of the computer, tapping wildly away at your blog, your discussion forum. Your moments with your children, without the blemish of life's worries planted across their delicate brows. Your favorite zi char stall, with your buddies and a couple of beers after a game of football, basketball. Your moments when you are you. Your humanity. Your existence. Your life.

Why do Singaporeans leave? Not only those leaving to the first world countries. But those Singaporeans who leave for developing countries. In Thailand, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia. Why? What is the allure of that foreign land? Is it the suspense of encountering new rules, new cultural continuities, new options, new possibilities? Do they hate Singapore? No, more, they are terrified of Singapore, of its system and what it represents. An epitome of dehumanity. Why do they leave? Not to recover but to rediscover life.

There is little or no suspense in Singapore where the system of rational outcomes, economic needs supersedes all of life's imperatives. It is this need which requires security. It is this need that precludes participatory politics. It is this need that determines existential continuity in Singapore. We cannot question this rule. And without question, questioning, we lose that gram of humanity which accrues through the years we co-mingle with this system. When the time comes to retirement, reflexion and the shock of system withdrawal is too late. We can only remember the moments of life at that secret spot, at that first kiss.

Reader, you asked what is there to cherish in Singapore. There is much and there can be more.

But will the system permit this?

For those who left, they cannot wait for the system's answer.

Because they know, life is lived on remaining time.

Quote of the Day --

"To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without fright." -- Walter Benjamin

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why They Like Singapore

There are some Singaporeans who like Singapore.

They belong to that sacred convenant of Singaporeans who have the most freedom in this island state. Well-schooled through the elite schools and recipients of prestigious scholarships to Oxbridge or the Ivy League, this class of Singaporeans are intelligent, articulate, sagely and well ensconced in the civil service, in the national newspapers, in the major GLCs, which run Clockwork Singapore.

These Singaporeans have it good. They can speak, reason and talk about politics in valuable newspaper space with absolute free reign. What authoritarian Singapore? They ask. They have all the freedom to publish commentaries with absolute impunity. They can talk about the Singapore system, on political accountability, freely without the blighting shadow of defamation.

For these Singaporeans, they cannot understand why other Singaporeans cry bloody murder on freedom of expression, freedom of speech, or the lack of human rights in Singapore. They cannot understand why Westerners hate Singapore.

In their sanguine sagacity, they dismiss these complaining Singaporeans as blue-eyed idealists who will grow out of their angst and accept the system; they scoff at the Western detractors as jealous, as cultural bigots who cannot escape the liberal paradigms they were schooled under.

These Singaporeans, so rational and pragmatic, who always have the answers, rooted deep in an ultra-Rankean historical perspective, for every contradiction apparent in Singapore society today.

Ministerial accountability for a terrorist escape? Look through the annals of history, there is no need. Why this fury?

Raising taxes to help the poor? Look at history and you see that the people have to bite the bullet to survive economic crises.

Gerrymandering in elections? Come on, we are a multi-racial society which needs proportional representation for the sake of democracy.

Every contradiction. A perfect, rational answer. Sometimes backed up with the necessary statistics.

These Singaporeans have absolutely no reason to dislike, what more hate Singapore? They reap the fruits of this nation's spectacular economic success. They enjoy great career success and hold positions of influence in the political, social, economic fields. They are the direct beneficiaries of Singapore Inc, the beautiful meritocracy of controlled political diversity.

These Singaporeans, who read the Singapore Story as how the PAP triumphed against the communists (after riding on the Malayan Communist Party to obtain political power and betraying them), went through a painful Merger with Malaysia (and the launch of Operation Cold Store to remove all the political opponents under the war against Communism), fighting the economic struggles of 1970s (enacting the Trade Union Act, the Newspaper Act, forcing the closure of Nantah and Chinese schools to annihilate all the bastions of Communist mass support), rising to the housing challenge with HDB (the forced repatriation of Singaporeans who received no compensation and the enactment of the grassroots RCs who receive favoured distribution of flats) and the birth of a modern economic miracle ( via the systematic de-politicization of society).

Really, for these Singaporeans, what's there to dislike, much less hate about Singapore? For them, the grass is always green. For them, a 10% pay-cut is just a few hundred off their six figure salaries. For them, the ERP is wonderful for removing congestion. For them, raising bus fares is an alien notion because they do not take buses. For them, Singapore is wonderful, they are free to do anything and they are happy citizens.

They just have to sing One song. They just have to believe in One nation. They just have to see One people.

And these Singaporeans are One Singapore.

Waltzing on a glass floor, looking down on the rest of the country, the rest of the world.

While the rest of us lift our heads and watch them dance through the glass ceiling.

Quote of the Day –

“Success is the important thing. Propaganda is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. It is not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct. I do not care if I give wonderful, aesthetically elegant speeches, or speak so that women cry. The point of a political speech is to persuade people of what we think right. I speak differently in the provinces than I do in Berlin, and when I speak in Bayreuth, I say different things than I say in the Pharus Hall. That is a matter of practice, not of theory. We do not want to be a movement of a few straw brains, but rather a movement that can conquer the broad masses. Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.” – Joseph Goebbels, Hochschule für Politik

Friday, August 08, 2008

Singapore Spirit

It is said that during this month, spirits of the netherworld are given license to roam the physical world. In Singapore, many activities cease during this month, house-moving, renovations, marriages, wedding dinners, for fear that it will bring inauspicious beginnings to new ventures. There cannot be too much joy during this month. Because the spirits are sad, hungry, lonely.

But still, we celebrate National Day in this luckless month. This year's theme, ironically, a celebration of the Singapore Spirit. The spirit of you and me. Our spirits chasing that dangling carrot in front of our eyes. A long, long queue outside the neighborhood betting shops. Hoping for luck in this luckless month. Fifty cent quickpick, dreaming a return eight million over, to lift our spirits, to lift us from our luckless lives.

This year's National Day, a paean to our indomitable Singapore Spirit. A spirit sliced wafer thin by cold political design. A spirit disfigured with mouths sewn shut. A spirit disembodied from our bodies which plod on like beasts of burden keeping Singapore Inc alive. A spirit mostly asleep, awakened every four years to sluggishly ink away emancipation. An emaciated spirit looking always for flight even as hordes rush in to replace his place. The Singapore Spirit, an indomitable Spirit.

The Singapore spirit, standing below the huge garishly lit National Day billboard of our beaming political masters surrounded by our multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-caricatured daguerreotypes. The Singapore spirit looking sadly at the Singaporean with his five dollar offerings of million dollar Hades money, a pair of flickering joss candles, a cluster of smoking joss sticks, praying fervently for blessings, for luck in this luckless month, in their luckless lives.

The Singapore spirit, a fragile wisp of ether, sadly watching a fictional celebration of million-dollar fanfare, elaborately synchronized dance displays, precision marching, streaking sonic jet fighters, muscular anthems and paeans, telling lustrous myths of unity, strength, indomitablity. Outside the stage, the old man collects discarded cardboard boxes and drink-cans from crowded coffee-shops, filled with patrons enraptured by the olympian spectacle in Beijing on the hanging TV screens. The Singapore spirit, so diffuse, so faint, so slight, like a whiff of alchohol in a Sunday choir-boy's breath. The Singapore spirit, united only by a common dream of flight from their luckless lives, from their lifeless lives.

The Singapore Spirit of National Day, a community of meanings, a sovereign display of resemblance and common reflexion, from which emerges the principles of unity and eventually political domination. While the singapore spirit of this Seventh Month, trudges on dispirited, unable to rupture its mythic patina of joyous unity, unable to voice, unable to signal its plea against the illogical political slogans of more taxes and necessary rising costs.

The dispirited Singapore Spirit, accepting the ashes of offerings from little bonfires scattered around the country. Unable to offer anything back but dreams of a better life as insubstantial, as ephemeral as the fireworks we will see this Saturday night.

Quote of the Day --

"These pre-existing forms of continuity, all these syntheses that are accepted without question, must remain in suspense. They must not be rejected definitively of course, but the tranquility with which they are accepted must be disturbed; we must show that they do not come about of themselves, but are always the result of a construction the rules of which must be known, and the justifications of which must be scrutinized: we must define in what conditions and in view of which analyses certain of them are legitimate; and we must indicate which of them can never be accepted in any circumstances." -- The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault