January 19, 2011
I have very little doubt with the recent gazetting of TOC as a political entity, the “happy hours,” is well and truly over (for them at least) – I am not saying TOC is going to keel over and die, stay and write on they certainly will, but no one can deny, the TOC that is likely to emerge from this episode will be different – and it would seem the right thing for all of us who truly value internet freedom is to regard this latest move by the Govt as an attempt to prune free speech in the internet – after all how can thinking people just accept this “intrusive” move at face value, without so much as a raised eyebrow or at least having the decency to make teeth sucking sounds?
But I am not so sure that’s the right take. Neither do I buy into the populist belief, this recent move by the govt necessarily corsets free speech anymore than I believe high tech barrages alone can stop Orchard Rd from turning into the Venice of the East. Question: is gazetting TOC a bad thing? – that proposition only holds water, if you believe The Online Citizen = the Internet. If so kindly move on to the next excellent article elsewhere, as you’re not going to enjoy this write up.
I don’t believe TOC is the alpha and omega of blogoland and I can even supply the proof. The contention is simple; firstly, reading is essentially a self selecting habit and its hard if not impossible to curb anyone from reading whatever and whenever they choose – not even the Chinese have been able to successfully corset the geography of the net despite building a Byzantine digital fire wall that is designed to exclude all other narratives except those handed down by their national leaders. Observation suggest, they have failed big time despite a decade of relentless harrying and spending an inordinate sum in ensuring that public discourse must remain “public” only in the sense of what the government considers kosher.
And how might all these relate to the recent gazetting of TOC? What is the correlation? What am I trying to say here?
Put simply, this goes back to the idea why I don’t see these latest attempt by the govt to corset TOC, as something that could possibly threaten the idea of freedom of speech – I admit my conviction may have something to do with my belief; what the net is and isn’t or what makes it tick – to me, the attributions that make up the internet is essentially a loose aggregation of voices, it’s formless and contrary to the TOC it may even be purposeless i.e few blogs out there that I regularly read and respect aspire to emulate the MSM – I understand this may come as a great surprise to many regular blog readers and even blog owners, but that’s because they haven’t really learnt the art to search out the nooks and crannies where other voices so often rent out on our objects of interest – its conceivable the average blog reader is at best delegating his daily diet of reading material to only aggregation sites in the way one walks up to a soup kitchen without dwelling deeper into the question: have I really bothered to search out what’s worth reading out there? Wonder no more why these readers seem to be the only ones lamenting the demise of TOC. It stands the test of reason, if you’ve been living in a well all this time, take away that circular view of the the world and what you’re left with is the impression it’s the end of the world- I am here to tell you otherwise. I am also here to share with you that you have the power to choose what you want to read. And if you don’t choose to exercise that right and leave it all to just aggregation sites to lead you by the nose, you have no one to blame but yourself, if you’re missing out - contrary to populist belief freedom of speech is under siege – observation suggest what the internet may be experiencing with events such as TOC is simply a natural process that has coursed throughout history – the lessons can be summed up in a conversation that transpired between Tarkin and Princess Leia in the first episode of the Star Wars.
Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.
Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers like sand.”
That is what happens whenever walls (it matters little what form they take) are erected to divide schools of thoughts and states of minds - words, ideas and meaning will simply take another form and shape to convey those same thoughts that once cemented the relationship between readers and writers – as whenever, I hear others lament the passing of TOC is an assault on our freedom of speech; what they often discount wholesale is there’s a collective psyche that makes up the DNA of the internet ( for got sake the Internet has been around for the last 15 fucking years! So don’t tell it hasn’t developed an equivalent of a brain, kidney or liver in a digital sense) – and I am here to tell you that is not an easy thing to extinguish – as this idea I am describing is so versatile, elastic and malleable that it like s lizard’s tail, cut it off and another one will just grow right back – eventually what will happen is we will all simply learn to develop another way of getting the same message across albeit with lashings of similes, lemotifs and other syntactic variations – walls in whatever form they may take, I don’t doubt may short circuit the traditional pathways one usually conveys ideas and thoughts, but so long as that DNA of common experiences, beliefs and nuances still exist in the marrow of the community who make up the Internet – it is really only a matter of time when netizens will begin wordsmithing a new language to get around, under or though those walls in the hope of connecting writers and readers – that new variation of communicating ideas and thoughts may well be the digital equivalent of the nudge, wink and sardonic cluck of the tongue or even something like the Samzidat, that once flourished even under the harshest of conditions. But thrive it will, so don’t fret my friends.
If the China experience serves as any indication to predict how the new Singapore political scene is going to pan out in the future – the perverse result may well be the same irony where state sanctioned discouragement of independent thought – only creates fertile ground for political satire, humor and subtlety to take root.
Paradoxically these days despite ever more inventive and sophisticated ways to erect higher, wider and thicker fire walls in China – all it has managed to do is up the ante on satire and humor thats designed to criticize the Communist obliquely in innumerable tongue and cheek ways that’s virtually impossible to clamp down as it manages to circumvent the laws – the proliferation of mockery of traditional figures of authority in some cases has proven to be far more effective than traditional linguistic methods of expressing discontent in China where the state well known to be intrusive and callous when it comes to upholding free speech in the net. Since these unconventional methods of getting the message across frequently leverage on humor, wit and barded repartees, they cut across all levels of society, from the wet marketeers who ply their trade in the Hu Tongs, to assembly sweatshops workers to right up to cubicles where Western educated Chinese working for multinationals can’t resist giggling at govt faux pas galore. My point is all these aren’t in delivered inline MSM style but they’re brought forth by a polyglot lingua Franca commona – only this a language written in an alphabet that all netizens seem to be able to read and understand, except the custodians of power – and there in the palm of your hands lies the great hope.
Trust me the Internet will survive and it will be free!
It’s hard for me to express my thoughts and excitement concerning the changes that we will all eventually see in these next few years; even harder to put them into words – perhaps, the sentiment that best be sums up my feelings concerning this matter is the way a farmer looks on with a sense of trepidation and hope as one season bows out to the advent of a new dawn.
Long live the Internet!
“What has the Great Chinese fire wall accomplished? Aren’t reports of corruption and abuses of power still echoing around their web. Look apprentice, when a drunk student whose daddy was a police top dog mowed down a student in Baoding city last October, that brainless wonder shouted “Go make my day, my father is Li Gang” – the web exploded, but not in Hua Yi or what we usually term Putong Hwa that you and I can read and understand, it is another language all together. The ASDF are studying this new crpytext – from what we can make out so far, the verbs, nouns and consonants that crisscross their net was able to by pass all their state filters; so those dumb communist had to do the censoring manually, like a cottage industry in the way you make handmade Faberge eggs. One day those communist morons are going to end up hiring 7 out of 10 Chinese just to make that decrepit wheel turn and they will all work guarding the not so great firewall – today when we talk about language in China, you have to be very clear apprentice, it is like kueh lapis, there are many layers of thoughts and each substrate is like a codex - as when you talk about language in the internet sense whole thoughts, ideas and even disquisitions can even be compressed into plays, cartoons, poetry, music and even satirical tunes that gamers dance too, but this is serious apprentice - as they are all designed to convey a very lucid and clear thought that Is as compact as a cyanide pill. The irony my apprentice is all the communist may have created despite their best attempts to maintain command & control of their Internet is to create innumerable variations on how to show the finger to their governments – have you ever asked yourself one simple question, how is it possible for “My dad is Li Gang,” to get over 40 million hits! That’s like telling me a whole regiment can walk through 100 miles of minefields and tripwires without losing a single man! The Chinese netizens have learnt a new way of talking to each other very soon they will learn to hunt in packs, then it will be like a 39 billion stealth fighter – if you can’t even see it, how the hell do you even begin to try to shoot it down……game over.”
January 18, 2011
Today is big cycling day – so we will just have to do a hello, bang-bang and good bye – coming to think, wasn’t that how our parents use to make babies? What’s happened recently? Why is LKY smacking his head!
Why is it so difficult to just get down to the whole business of making babies? It should be the most natural thing in the world. What’s the fuss all about? Why does it have to be something like the Da Vinci code?
My pet theory is; it may have something to do with the sworn enemies of the brotherhood – yes, those erudite spinsters who reside in that self styled monastery known as SPH (the Sisters of Perpetual Hesitation); who often write toe curling accounts on the seven habits of highly effective wife beaters – to why I rather sleep with my dog than a man – in their cloistered enclave when their mother superior Sumiko exclaims: “I’ve missed the boat.” Her underlings cheer on, “Well done, our aim must be improving.”
Leaving that all aside our baby blues remains a pithy summary of the sign of our times – it’s serious when you consider even Sengkang Sally these days seems to be hanging up her eggs.
In the early 80’s when the trend of forestalling the stork first surfaced it affected mainly the ranks of professional women – that was alright – besides all of them were batty and their abstinence probably saved most men from perpetual bitching.
But of late the trend of forestalling the stork seems to have reached pandemic levels and it’s even scissoring right through the length and breadth of our society! So out comes the same unsavory characters making a bee line in rogue’s gallery: high cost of living, not enough time, an uncertain future and the impossible demands of juggling jobs and kids etc. Now it seems the govt of the day is using this as a tagline to justify the immigration policy.
Are they the only suspects? Could there be another reason why our birth rates are so low?
One clue that may explain why the baby figures are so shambolic may be found in the computer game called SimCity – I happen to love the game. For one it’s a great way to take a holiday from my inferiority complex; as SimCity is really like playing god (though I don’t think he eats pot noodle or has to live in a room where clothes go to die) – now the thing that I learnt most about SimCity is:
Build a lousy system and you are likely to get lousy results; there’s no mystery there, it’s cut and dried; where the cost and penalty calculation become screwy is when you build a perfect system that’s so good that it even has reserves to gather momentum and when you pull on the brakes nothing happens!
It’s a bit like the Titanic 30 seconds before it struck the iceberg – instead of you playing the game; the game plays you – the levers of power are connected to nothing!
That dystopian nightmarish landscape bears out only too clearly in the game SimCity – even the most benign and innocuous actions can be amplified and have far reaching implications – build a multi storey car park and the next thing you know you’ve created the mother of all traffic jams and that leads to probably an eight lane highway followed by deppreciation of real estate prices – next thing you know your neighborhood has turned into down town Baghdad; if you really want to understand why our baby birth rates is so low –here it is! - the answer believe it or not can be found in a computer game and just in case you think – I am kidding.
I am not, I worked it all out mathematically one evening on a napkin in McDonalds.
The whole idea of playing the extinction game isn’t really so different from one those environmental horror stories; we so often hear about; When someone thought it would just be a dainty idea to bring a pot of flowers from the old country to brighten up the porch and dress up their bonnet for Sunday church.
But what happens when that species of alien flower finds its way into the local ecology and proliferates only to overreach its territory very much like a super invader to wipe up the rest?
The analogy isn’t so different from what really accounts for our baby blues. The historical accounts are sketchy; but the story goes something like this; during the late 70’s a great social engineering experiment was launched; the ‘2 is enough and 3 is company’ population control program.
It made perfect sense then to mitigate the high birth rates and leveraging on the apparatus of assimilation to broadcast the message it worked admirably, the problem was everyone from the policymakers to the social scientist who conceived this idea became so fixated on the drive train and breaking the land speed record; none of them bothered with the emergency brakes. In short, they forgot about the reverse gear – fast forward today; when we talk about our lamentable birth rates, it’s nothing more than a social Chernobyl experiment gone awry.
Yes, some one fucked up. And they fucked it up big time.
The lessons here are sobering – never ever mess around with something you don’t completely understand – that’s the problem when government decides to play a round of I am-God-almighty.
My point is simply this; the phenomenon of low birth rates in Singapore can only be effectively reversed, if we take the trouble to understand the root causes for why couples seem to be deferring the decision to have more kids – the high cost of living. I don’t doubt may be one of ONLY a host of other reason. But attempting to reverse this trend by resorting to immigration instead of addressing the real causes is akin to fixing a leaky roof by building another new roof above the defective one – that’s stupid. What should be done instead is to interrogate the valence between the low birth rates and other drivers such as i.e income inequality, the difficulties of balancing parenthood and work life etc – all these add up to exacerbate the situation that translates to create the baby blues in Singapore – but if we remain bovine about drilling deeper to determine those underlying causes. And instead just accept low birth rates as a fact with that all too familiar Singaporean melancholic air of finality (what to do lah!) not only will it not spur the govt formulate a prescriptive cure to reverse the rot. At at best it will simply encourage ennui or worst perpetuate a failure of imagination to craft effective incentives to encourage more couples to see value in parenting – neither does the argument, just because every developed country (Singapore is no exception….it is our Karma) seems to be suffering from the same trend of abysmal baby birth rates cut any ice either. As that line of logic presupposes all developed and high density countries share the same social, cultural and economic conditions, hence they too must suffer from the same corrosive forces that militate higher birth rates – they don’t and even if they did, how would one explain how so many Scandinavian countries and even France have been able to reverse the seemingly finality of the case of diminishing birth rates. In summary, we should never see abysmal birthrates as an natural part and parcel of modern city life. It is not!
If there is any redeeming hope in this essay, the custodians of power would do well to consider seriously whether those intrusive ill conceived policies which may have made pragmatic sense once upon a time to muck around with the lives of people contributed to our lamentable birth rates today. I don’t doubt these planners may have done so with the best of intentions; but no one can deny today, when we scale the cost, it was not only misplaced, but foolish. This I have little doubt!
Thus it profits us naught to chase the air and clouds by suggesting this could in any way be resolved with immigration – as within a span of one generation, if we do not pin down the root causes and kill it, those same malevolent forces that continues to militate against couples having more kids will once again replay again thus necessitating yet another wave of immigration. To paraphrase we are going around in circles! fact remains where the equation applies to people; the whole calculation may not even hold true as what we are dealing with here isn’t nuts and bolts – it’s not really a quantitative method as it remains a qualitative process; its more an art than a science; because you dealing with people and people don’t always behave rationally.
Yes, small things can have big consequences. They can even come back and bite you like a multi headed hydra. Worst of all, some of the mistakes we make can’t be reversed – once they go into the mind; they just stay there forever.
It would be good; if government just kept that in the back of their minds when they next decide to muck around with the internet.
Don’t say, I didn’t tell you; it’s doesn’t pay to play God.
Pls do correct for grammar along with spelling.
Got to go cycling now.
(This post has been reposted in Ekunaba – brotherhood press 2011)
“I learn many things from gaming, one of them is small things can lead to big things. And once that happens it is not how well you can play the game. But rather how well, the game plays you. Remember, there is always a God somewhere in the small. But if you believe in the idea of a higher being, you must also entertain the theoretical possibility, the devil always resides in the details of the small.”
HAVE YOU MISSED OUT ON OTHER ESSAYS? CLICK THE BROTHERHOOD PRESS ARTICLES TAG BELOW TO GET THE LIST.
January 16, 2011
This is a secret conversation between the Council of the Wise and Singaporedaddy concerning the recent gazetting of TOC as a political party. This conversation took place at 89019 Primus Space time recently in the Great Hall of the People in Primus Aldentes Prime – this transcript carries an e-prom code: 8839-0028 DB.
“Singaporedaddy, do you know why the Council of the Wise has summoned you to Primus Aldentes Prime?”
“Council, I can only hope it has nothing to do with something I may have blabbered after downing too many cocktails..”
“Look here! We did not summon you all the way across the universe to make smart Alec wise cracks. We seek to understand these recent development – you were once the Internet Liaison officer who represented the Brotherhood in the site known as the online citizen aka TOC. We want your frank assessment about these latest developments.”
“With due respect Council seems to be asking me obliquely, whether that supposedly mad man who you all refer too as Darkness was correct in his assessment of TOC? As his latest article concerning TOC’s gazetting as a political entity seems support the contention that what was done was the right move?”
“Yes, perhaps 1st officer – but please leave out Darkness. We find the mere mention of his name obnoxious in the Great Hall. You see Singaporedaddy, the rest of the tribes have asked whether we should remain neutral or throw our support behind TOC even if we have nothing in common with them in the name of defending free speech in the internet. Perhaps even instituting a measured response? We seek to understand 1st officer and we desire an accurate assessment as to whether this latest move by the government is justified. The rest of the tribes may have nothing in common with TOC, but some quarters see this as an attack on internet freedom. Do you see why your assessment is key?”
“My frank assessment is we should never be seen to support either this recent move by the government or for that matter commit ourselves to give any form of support to TOC – I believe why there may be rumblings amongst the tribes. May have something to do with TOC’s attempt to link this recent move by the government as a clamp down on freedom of speech in the internet. To put it another way TOC is capitalizing on this opportunity whip up populist support by selling the idea what has been decided upon is a clear and present threat to internet freedom.”
“1st officer, you mean to say they are trying to be a cause célèbre? Will they succeed, this is what we wish to know?”
“No! The possibility of TOC successfully fashioning itself as a cause célèbre Council stands as much chance as a tornado whipping through a junkyard to assemble a 747. I can assure the Council this is improbable – as for these rumblings by the tribes in the strangelands that you speak about – they only represent 0.001% of our community- these are merely technical tremors like meteors no larger than a egg that frequently criss cross the night sky. They are inconsequential. As for this TOC business it is also a matter of profound indifference, not because the Government is seen to be justified or for that matter TOC is seen to be been treated in a draconian manner by a big bully that everyone is powerless to cut to size. If I may plead with the Council to raise the unspeakable name of Darkness that has always been a thorn in the eye in the Great hall to highlight the salient.”
“If you must 1st officer. But only if you use it to illustrate a point. The Council finds his name offensive.”
“Thank you. Councillors, we must be mindful of this fact, what Darkness wrote is not entirely without foundation concerning TOC. Based on my extensive interaction in TOC as an Internet Liaison Officer who represents the four houses of the Brotherhood – I concur fully with his assessment which I consider accurate: where he claims the outfit who runs TOC have through a period of time become so unhinged from reality, they may already be so delusional as to have lost all semblance of objectivity. Neither is the assertion that they see themselves as Kingmakers or as Darkness puts it as some mythical power broker like Prince Klemens von Metternich inaccurate either.”
“1st officer is there a danger of boiling over like the Mr Brown Saga?”
“The answer is categorically no! The Council need not worry unduly that this matter will boil over as TOC despite its seemingly large readership does not command a tenuous hold on the public consciousness in the internet. They used too, but today they have alienated virtually every segment of the class of writers who we have always considered dangerous.”
“Precisely, without the support of the intellectuals TOC cannot possibly be fashioned as a cause célèbre, anymore than if Emile Zola did not believe the state had committed a travesty of justice on Monsieur Dreyfus. The latter would have rotted down to his bones in some penal colony. We all know this only too well based on our experience in Primus how dangerous the intellectuals can be when they are rubbed the wrong way.”
“Elaborate please 1st officer.”
“This same Council once issued a warrant of arrest for Darkness and his crew. Consider this Gentlemen, what did he do to annul those charges?”
“You are out of line 1st officer, may I remind you are addressing the Council!”
“May I respectfully inform the Council that I am the 1st officer of the Interspacing Mercantile Guild. You have asked me for an assessment. I am here to give it as a counsellari who represents the IMG, not the magic mirror to the evil Queen in Snow White and the seven dwarfs.”
“Alright, make it quick then 1st officer, we don’t have all day.”
“It was not my intention to bring up the name of Darkness to cause offense. Only it serves to illustrate succinctly how he managed to checkmate the Council by appealing to the sentiments of all the intellectuals of tribes that dot the universe. Darkness once wrote long mournful letters which he posted all over the internet. But Councillors they were read not by the masses. Only a few. But this did not alter the fact, only a few of these intellectuals were enough to cause such a ruckus they finally manage to unite the rest of the tribes to petition the Confederation to threaten withdrawing our mineral concessions and that Gentlemen was the reason why those charges leveled against Darkness was annulled. To put it another way, TOC doesn’t have that sort of bedrock support from the intellectual class.”
“We did not summon you 3,000,000 light years all the way here to talk about Darkness. What has that got to do with the events concerning TOC?”
“Everything! As I mentioned Council without a bedrock of support as Darkness once enjoyed from the intellectuals in Primus Aldentes Prime. Darkness and his crew would still be a renegade force today. In the case of TOC in the early days. They certainly enjoyed the support of the intellectual and eclectic class of readers and commentators. In those days, TOC’s online popularity was purchased by forwarding two ideas woven into its mission – first, by bringing to light compromising facts about social inequalities or malfeasance on the part of the Singapore Government. And secondly, that this torrent of criticism serves as constructive platform as it offered an all inclusive and exhaustive opportunity to trash out issues exhaustively in a level playing field. This they managed to deliver in the early days.
But lately starting in the beginning of last year, TOC’s disposition changed. Not only did they impose a word count ban on some of their regular commentators. But they also censored, deleted and many cases abused the moderation feature by in some cases holding comments they considered “inconsistent” with their point of view. One can only draw the logical conclusion all these were designed to create some semblance of widespread support to lend credence to what they regularly forwarded as the “truth”? To exacerbate matters, TOC frequently used this fear of being pilloried through censoring and deleting of counter arguments in their comment section to perpetuate a third, patently self-serving agenda: that if you want your comments to be posted then you would better tow their line. Eventually these three myths that TOC once subscribed too added up to a perverse obfuscation of what really resides in the public consciousness. In short by the middle of 2010, TOC could not even by the most forgiving standards be considered a fair and impartial site any loner, let alone serve as a sounding board for most netizens. The rot had by this stage become so serious it seems only those who form the inner circle of their coterie were regularly given a platform to air their views. This is an executive summary of how TOC alienated the thinking classes.”
“You mean to say your masters foresaw this clamp down?”
“Council, that information is privileged. And even if that were the case, I would not be in a position to confirm or deny it. Let us just say, we considered the situation untenable and this gazetting of TOC was in every sense consistent with our assessment.”
“We understand 1st officer. But could there have been any other mitigating reasons for TOC’s policy of pursuing a policy of comment censorship?”
“I have no doubt, if TOC is here to rebut these claims they would certainly suggest that by pursuing a policy of selected commentary approval and disapproval. They were merely ridding themselves of the lunatic fringe – However Council, I cannot see how intelligent comments which may not agree with what is written in TOC can in any way abet racism or pose a threat to stability and racial harmony to warrant comment censorship – in summary, when TOC pursued this relentless policy of censoring they stymied serious dialogue which would have lent credence to their case as a site that hopes to promote an all inclusive dialogue; instead when these Kingmakers stopped counter arguments from appearing in their threads. I can only conclude this was done to ensure that none of their articles could be discredited by netizens who may have had held different point of view. This explains why TOC is not in the business of creating a fully inclusive quorum that allows for free and open discourse as its so often inclined to represent to most netizens. If anything TOC was in the business of engineering consent using the power of the internet. Pray tell Councillors, how is it possible to create an all inclusive platform for deep spirited discourse – when momentous issues raised intelligently by commentators are brushed away? Could it not be said then not only does the discourse become one sided. But since the art of engineering consent promotes only a myopic examinations it can only lead to a skewered discourse. I suspect this was done in order to lend credence to whatever they had to forward as news worthy material. When that happens the first casualty is the truth. This is why they are not so different from either the ruling hegemony or the MSM. They are in the business of practicing the same nefarious tools of engineering consent. The Council would do well if they doubt my assessment to ask themselves ONLY one question, why is there is there so little public outcry for TOC’s gazetting as a political entity in blogosphere?”
“Point taken 1st officer.”
“Council would do well to remember this. When open and free dialogue is systematically eviscerated with a hidden agenda to engineer to consent albeit under the spurious guise of responsible blogging – it makes no measurable difference to the issue of whether the government was justified in gazetting TOC as a political party or not. Neither should this recent move by the government be aligned and confused with whether freedom of speech is under siege. In my assessment, I do not see how those considerations should even be pertinent in the decision making process. Such questions can only acquire the power of agency if we are called upon to decide upon a blog that promotes free and open discussion, and TOC is not such a site. I don’t discount the management of TOC will certainly try to link this recent gazetting as a political entity to the broader question of the how this poses a threat to freedom in the internet. But since TOC has already alienated so many in the thinking classes, even the task of garnering support from most netizens remains a remote possibility.
“1st officer, what is your recommendation?”
“My recommendation Council is we remain neutral. Besides whether TOC comes or goes is matter of profound indifference to all of us or anyone else in the internet, except maybe their direct beneficiaries. Our primary concern should be remitted to only asking ourselves whether free speech in the Internet has been compromised by this recent government action. In my assessment that answer is a resolute no.”
“Thank you 1st officer for your comprehensive assessment. Long live the Brotherhood!”
“Council – one is always glad to be of service – Long live the Brotherhood!”
This transcript was recorded by an auto-bot crawler built and operated by the IMG – a conversation with the Council of the Wise and Singaporedaddy – documented by the Chronicler of the Book of Ages 2011
January 14, 2011
(To increase the font – hold down the Ctrl key and keep pressing +)
America is just barely clinging on to the pole position of the wealthiest and technological advanced country in the world, but if history is any guide China may well surpass her very soon. The rot is beginning to show; both the US and the EU are finding it harder to script the narrative of how they would like to see the world – in short, their influence is frittering away in the way camphor gives itself slowly to the atmosphere.
I can go on and on for 10 pages and still not scratch the surface of the veneer what may possibly account for this lamentable state of affairs.
But don’t get me wrong; I am not saying Europe and North America who still produce two-thirds of the world’s GDP, spend more than two-thirds of its R&D dollars, and own almost all the nuclear weapons on this planet are going to go back to the cottage industry and a diet of mud cakes. Only when we talk about power in the context of geo-politics which equates to the capacity to influence and shape events; these days both the US and EU look like ships marooned in the Saharan desert. Recently when President Obama—leader of the richest, most inventive, and best-armed country in history—visited Seoul he could not even convince the leaders of the 19 next-biggest economies to follow his plans for global finance. They just cold shouldered him – that’s how bad things have got.
This should prompt us to ask how did a country like the US which was once the creche of the American dream end up as a glorified bag man pushing a trolley full of knick knacks?
There is no shortage of theories – why or how the shift in power migrated from West to East, blaming everyone from incompetent politicians, partisan politics, lack of moral rectitude to even malevolent currency manipulators. But the real explanation goes much deeper – it all boils down to plain and simple arrogance.
Winston Churchill once famously said,
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
To paraphrase, history repeats itself. To make sense of the forces that continues to shape our world, we have to look deeper into the past and winnow out the lessons of how arrogance can even be an undoing of nations. When we do this, the first thing that reveals itself is we begin to see that the upheavals of our own age are ongoing phases that has coursed throughout history – to the perceptive reader; when I use the term “arrogance” here, it goes beyond just the dictionary meaning of the word – when a word is deployed in this context, it encapsulates a whole range of motifs ambivalence towards the poor; a calcified mentality that is so set in its ways, that it can produce nothing except maybe perpetuate the status quo ante; misplaced assumptions that if good is to be had then it has to come to at an exorbitant cost like closing one eye to income inequality and worst still holding on to the idea, that success and endemic poverty are one of the same realities i.e you cannot have the good without bearing with the bad; or it’s inevitable, its our karma and there is nothing we can do about it – in this respect, the term arrogance refers to a ritualized way of thinking that is premised on a litany of false assumptions is based on only one rationale: if we decamp from the tried and tested yellow brick road, the ceiling will just come crashing down! – and here we would do well to press the pause button and ask ourselves – can Singapore survive well into and beyond the 21st century; it would appear this question should turn on only a few considerations: how much money can a nation make in an allotted span of time; or which political party is able to recruit the best candidates to steer us successfully to the next port of call – to me, these are just side dishes; the deepest force of all that accounts for the rot of any nation that hollows out real wealth not only Singapore but elsewhere is when the custodians in power narrow and define the idea of wealth to only the lowest level of what it could possibly be; when its debased to only money and cents terms. When that happens, they commit a travesty of reason to conceive the possibility other metrics may even acquire the agency to be an equivalent of this base standard of wealth; perhaps even better than what they have already decided upon – that’s also when they take the wrong turn, keel over and die.
This underscores why I strongly believe it makes little sense to chase GDP and wealth creation on a macro-economic level without first considering the idea: how can wealth percolate downward in the way fertilizer nourishes the soil and makes possible a bountiful harvest – not only do I consider this omission a gross dereliction of duty, but it underscores what I’ve said earlier – its none other than unmitigated arrogance. I suspect one reason why corseting the idea of wealth creation to only standard metrics such as GDP and GNP remains the preferred strategy in Singapore is because it manages to encapsulate all the appearances of wealth neatly. In reality that’s at best a chimera, at worst a Pyhric victory- wonder no more why Rome, Greece and contemporary China all advanced like a maglev train once upon a time only to return back to the ubiquitous dust of nothingness – my point is these civilizations at one time, were not so different from the monoliths of power that we see today in the shape and form of the US and EU – infact, Rome was so wealthy; by the age of Augusta; most of Romans didn’t even know the front and rear end of a sword; why should they when their wealth made it possible to inure the ranks of their legions with mercenaries? That same vein of arrogance coursed through ancient China; when the Mandarins suffered a failure of imagination to broaden the idea of wealth which perpetuated their highly ritualized style of statecraft without ever once bothering to revivify it with new technology the West could have offered. In contrast Japan went the other way and it hardly requires any elaboration why they are closer to the ideal of real wealth creation than we will ever be.
My point is simply this; it pays naught to narrow the idea of wealth creation to the lowest denomination of money & cents – and it pays even less to emulate countries which are so fixated on ONLY money such as the Swiss – that despite the immensity of their largesse; their only contribution to mankind was a cuckoo clock - real wealth needs to take a full sweep of the political, economic, social and technological set pieces; not only at the front end where education plays a role; but also the tail, where we need to craft a way not only to alleviate the submerged classes, but if possible elicit the latent power in them by forcing firms to move up the value chain – the issue at hand is not whether we should do this; but can we afford not to take a holistic view of a wealth of a nation and remain fixed in our ways to only interpret it in blinkered monetary terms? In my book, that’s akin to replicating the disastrous effects that transpired in Easter Island; when a once vibrant community cut down every single tree just to fashion stone Moais a la cookie factory fashion – eventually the logic was taken to so far that the island became a dustbowl and all of them ended up in the dodo hall of fame.
To understand why “arrogance,” in whatever form or shape it might take in policy formulation is closer to perdition than salvation – one needs to first understand that its possible for a country to be wealthy yet poor at the same time – just as its possible to win every battle and still manage to lose the war; and the reason is simple: real wealth can only be generated and shared by all if it circulates in the local economy and most importantly when it is invested in people (here I don’t refer to skill upgrading, but the conditions that makes this proposition economically viable by creating incentives for firms to move up the value chain) if that same wealth i.e money is sited somewhere else or invested in a Swiss banks where autocratic dictators usually hide their nefarious gains – or plonked in some bank in Wall Street where bankers were once so cavalier as to juggle hand grenades just to turn a quick buck that triggered the sub-prime crisis and plunge the world into a financial quicksand – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out – that country is just wealthy in name; but poor in real terms, as when the idea of wealth is just a computer print out it might as well be encased in a bullet proof glass as it fails to circulate within the local economy like lubrication oil to stimulate the entrepenuerial spirit that creates opportunities for the masses in the local economy – that’s no good, it just doesn’t come around - as a consequence, the submerged classes will always remain in the gyre of hopelessness while only a select few will reap the benefits of conditions that entrench income inequality.
Neither does it profit a nation to believe that by just pursuing what I call patch policies (which is really like trying to fix stuff with superglue, rubber band and duct tape) we can magically formulate a prescriptive cure for the the chronic problems of our age – I don’t doubt, many of the problems we face may well be an accretion of globalization; but the arrogance here is when we fail to consider how ill policies have also exacerbated these problems such as unbridled immigration and the misplaced belief the root cause of income equality can be magically wished away with perpetual retooling, training and enrichment courses – in my book that sort of arrogance discounts the reality of the laws of diminishing returns i.e no amount of training or skill upgrading is going to solve the intractable problem when existing conditions encourage firms to create sweat shops – when we ask the question; Why does income equality continue to widen in one of the richest per capita nations on this planet.
It can only be a pithy summary of how theory has failed to past successfully into the realm of theory. And this begs the question: do we reinforce failure? Or shift gears?
If you really want to know the truth; income inequality has little to do with the skill quotient of a workforce. Just as one cannot expect to make progress by putting the cart before a horse – it has to begin with employers. As the “conditions” that militates against the average worker finding a means to emancipate himself from the poverty gyre has to involve firms – if the job scope just involves putting two screws into vibrating toys that bring joy to lonely spinsters, then pray tell what is the relevance of skill upgrading?
To exacerbate matters the arrogance of the custodians of power to pursue a cut-the-cake-and-eat-it policy – where its even conceivable they are addicted to low cost manufacturing simply means there can be no impetus to upgrade their processes so as to make possible pay raises – that in turn creates disincentives to cajole enterprises to upgrade their process thus keeping the status quo ante – so what we have created is a vicious cycle; one that promises ever decreasing circles- and those conditions can only work against Ah Kow, Muthu, Ahmad and De Souza as he watches helplessly when the purchasing power of his dollar shrinks with the chastening passage of time -
What beggars the imagination is why is there a failure of imagination to even consider experimenting with the idea of minimum wage? What accounts for the bovine indifference to even craft a coherent plan to provide sufficient incentives for firms to move up the value chain, they by allowing the average Joe a means to get out of the poverty trap? – instead in the recent Parliamentary debate all I see are automatons rain dancing by placing all the onus for income inequality on the failure of the workforce to upgrade their skills – when the root of the problem resides in their failure to perceive the wisdom of weening ourselves from our addiction to low cost nasty labor intensive manufacturing and failing to incentivizing firms to automate and migrate upwards in the value chain.
For all their best efforts; these custodians of power may have created the perfect conditions for sweatshops to fester and exacerbated the already depressing conditions for the average Joe.
To paraphrase; we are the wealthiest nation in the nation; yet ironically the poorest as well.
“Understand this apprentice! Forget what those derelict academics taught you in Yale…..let me tell you the story of the empire of the bones and how it came about. The Americans and Europeans took a wrong turn in the eighties; some idiot thought it was a good idea to pack up all their factories like a traveling circus and move it to low cost producing countries like China, Vietnam and Mexico – many others saw that it too made sense, so they did the same – I don’t disagree in the short term; the cost of a shovel or toaster went right down and it would seem as if it was a boon to the average American as his dollar can be stretched further – but what they didn’t realize is these days when you take a look at even a Harley Davison, that iconic symbol of Americana; the head lamp is made in Xiamen, the drive train in Taiwan and all the average American worker is good for is just applying glue to a Harley-Davison badge – things are so bad these days; when you ask an average American shop floor worker to hand you a No.9 monkey wrench, he gives you a ticket to the zoo – there are no more skilled artisans; only kids sitting before a computer designing virtual bikes – and that is what happens when a factory is turned into a stock market. Worst of all they have lost the very one thing that makes possible for real sustainable wealth – say what you like about protectionism and xenophobia, but I think the Germans got it right. Today if you go to Munich; you can see the benefits of what I call real wealth creation – when you walk around the BMW plant you will have very little doubt that what I am saying is so true, you don’t know this because your lecturers in Yale have never ever rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty before. I’ve worked in a factory, followed a shift even when I could have held down a decent 9 to 5 job in an air-conditioned cave. At that time, all my friends said, “look at Darkness, he is a wash out! He’s got a Masters of Science that nearly broke his balls and what does he do with it? He becomes a grease monkey!” But these same people today have no idea where to even begin valuing a factory or when one of those serious men ask them: is this a good place to plonk my money, all they can do is run to me – do you now see my young apprentice, they never once invested in the real! Just like the Americans who traded in their factories for warehouses; they lost the ball; but look at how the Germans nourished the one thing those dumb Americans threw away; they kept the real, they fertilized the real and so they are the only race on this planet who know how to build real cars from the ground up, to turn a metal sheet into a car bonnet that sort of technology and let me tell you another thing, they do it cheaper than the Chinese – now you know why the Hasidic Jews control the diamond industry; they keep all 300 designs right up here. Learn from the Jews, they know what is real – do you see those wise men outsourcing their black arts to China for a quick buck? So don’t tell me that Wall-Mart is heaven; it is the hottest place in Hell!”
January 13, 2011
<p>No one in this planet does it better then the Koreans when it comes to pumping out tear jerkers – they are the indisputable Toyota motors of love stories genre; and when I first started writing love stories; they were simply inspirational in every way possible – from plot, cadence, speed and texture – I copied these masters unabashly, now you know why the brotherhood press love stories division is so prolific – some may balk at all this; and say most of these yarns are nothing more than superficial rehashed Mills & Boons reads – I disagree; the plot may seem trite only because you’re distanced by your prejudice and ignorance – but once you immerse yourself in them and get beneath the triteness and invest your heart and soul in them; they’re astonishingly beautiful, sensitive and heart warming in every sense – many years ago before the internet age began; I lost someone who was very dear to me to lymphatic cancer – she left suddenly and it left me with this incredible hole in my heart which I can only describe as an eternal abyss – at first, I tried to bring her back to life in the virtual; I scoured the world for the best animators, best mathematicians, best illustrators; money was no object; I even once stormed a replica of Taj Mahal with 100 Sardokhan elite troops to create paradise for her - despite their very best efforts no matter how real they fashioned her; they were never able to capture her essence; – her spirit always remained elusive and afar; and that hole in my heart was never ever filled – it was only when I sat down and began to write love stories and started churning them out like a cookie factory; that I began to understand for the very first time in my life – how pain and joy are in fact one of the same reality; and the rest is really grist to the mill; as I had to immerse myself into my characters and experience what they really felt – and with that came a deep spirited understanding of love and courage.
Someday my animators will get it right and she will smile the way I remembered her – till then while the story goes on – somewhere in amid the tears and laughter, there will always be a place called paradise and she will never be far away from me.
Happy Birthday Sarah.
P.S I shan’t be coming any longer to visit you as I do every year around this time. I’ve decided it’s time to move on 12 years, 3 months 17 days and 6 hours is time – its time Sarah, to put down that stone that I’ve carried for long and move on.
I’ve decided to go into agriculture – not in a big way, but not too small either, but if things go well I may decide to buy more land and even make something of it; it will be a lonely and Spartan life faraway from the hustle and bustle of the city with a few farm hands and Rotweillers for company.
I wasn’t kidding when I once said all I ever wanted in life was to return to the good earth.
I’ve had it with fast cars, racy women and living on the edge. Maybe I am getting older, maybe wiser or maybe I’ve just slowing down or just plain unlivable.
Either way I am hopeful Sarah. I’ve got a few ideas in my head for the time being they’re just rough sketches, but if I could invent a small machine no larger than a skip to process oil palm bunches into oil – I think it will keep me occupied when the sun goes down. Or use computers and GPS technology to improve yield, that would make me happiest.
It will be a very different life Sarah, but I am hopeful. And hope is the best thing in the world. Perhaps the only thing worth living for.
Good Bye Sarah
“Why don’t you join us for drinks any more Darkness?”
“What’s the point? We either talk about whether a Masserati has a better gear box than a Porsche; or whether that girl has a better box than the other one the week before; or whether xbox is better than playstation. We are living in box!
Besides I’ve only got two customers for the last ten years who really appreciate the quality of my work. Don’t want more. One lives on an airplane and the other is HQed in a yacht that even has a helipad and a mini golf course – so that side is covered. What they’re going to do threaten them not to do business with me – those old buzzards are just going to piss on them from up there. I am sick and tired of just looking at figures and lines on a computer terminal and pretending to work. Half the time I am ether reading or surfing the net. So far I’ve called the right shots; but let’s face, a large part of it was due to luck and I am never ever going to let get into my head that I am a reincarnation of Nostradamus – or some legend in my own mind. Sure there was skill, but my trade is coming to an end; these days even kids with a lap top computer can basically do what I do. The only thing they lack is panache and aplomb, shock and awe, but all that is smoke and mirrors. The long and short of it is I am not so different from a man who picked up a chip and rode on a wave in a casino and now it’s time to cash out. Besides the world is getting crazier by the minute and I have no illusions it will get nuttier; those numbers don’t make an ounce of sense any more and it’s only a matter of time before I call one wrong call after another. When that day comes those old buzzards are just going to drop me like a hot potato. It’s not like the PAP where you have 9 opportunities to fail and still keep your a platinum rice bowl. All I have is my wits and bag of snake oil, so that’s a high wire act. Besides, if I stay here too long it’s just going to get harder to get off the hamster wheel. Eventually, I am just going to be no different from one those run of the mill bullshiters where work is life and everything else – You know why don’t you? Once you’re in that kind of life, it doesn’t pay to be your own man – no I’ve always seen myself as that man in that movie Shawshank Redemption. I am always chipping away for the day when I can break right out. That’s the truth, but most people can’t see it, as Appearances can be deceptive. I know it sounds crazy that a man should retire at his prime, but there a Cantonese saying lor tak hei, fong tak lok – in other words it does pay to stay on when the party is over. One day, I am going to go back to where I once came from, the good earth, that’s real. That’s something that I can transfer my knowledge into and I know it may look like the end, but it’s just the beginning. Everything you see here is just like Disneyland, it ain’t real, not by half it ain’t. Its just eye candy. This isn’t about brotherhood, I think it has more to do with personhood apprentice. I once wrote a e- book called the Singaporean gangster in London, in the last chapter the main protagonist Huan Guan returned to a surreal place called home. I must have received over 10,000 questions from the readership why I ended that story that way, in a curious ways I must have projected many of my aspirations and dreams in that concluding chapter without realizing that was all I ever wanted, a place called home. One more thing apprentice tell our German friends to cancel the Sarah project, let her sleep…..let her sleep forever.
Well it’s a done deal, it seems like TOC is going to get back into their bone shaker and drive down towards Dodoland boulevard belching black smoke.
If you have been living in a cave and just emerged from darkness, let me give you the latest heads up – the government is planning to reclassifying TOC as a political entity.
What do I have to say about this? Not very much actually, I am writing this in the train; and the only thing in my mind is right now is how long can I smile at a pretty girl in a short skirt opposite me without coming across as a crazed stalker.
Truth of the matter is I’ve never really had a high opinion of TOC, as I and I suspect many have always regarded it is just another glorified mutual appreciation society that’s just one rung higher than a bunch of cripples who keep on insisting that limbs are unnecessary as wheels are kinetically more efficient – that’s at best a crumbly idea as any wheel bound person whose confronted with a flight of stairs will testify. By the same token when TOC decided to organize “the political event of the year” (you could say they too came up against a different flight of steps, only that one led to swan dive) – the way I see it, they should have realized they were exceeding the ambit of the Singapore definition of a social political blog – say what you like, but in my book its one thing to write about subjects that relate to the political sphere. But when a blog actively seeks to fashion a quorum in the real world to facilitate politicians to air their views outside the confines of blogosphere – then its ceases completely to be a blog and instead morphs into a full fledged political organization.
That is how I see it.
I realize some of you may disagree with me – but just bear me out – I understand if my position seems to be advocating the idea a blog should be corseted and should never be allowed to exceed its ambit. Au contraire, my point is simply this; a blog is blog; and to try to fashion it as a unifying force that attempts to rally the opposition or ruling hegemony is akin to using a washing machine to mix concrete or attempting to sail the seven seas in a bath tub – I don’t deny one day with the advancement of computing technology along with the growth of an eclectic class that may be able to appreciate the nuances of real political discourse – there is every opportunity for a blog to fulfill this role wonderfully and that may even be the only way politics will be conducted in the distant future, but as it is writing in this period attempting to fashion a blog as a political King maker cum a la Matternich begs the question: is this the best way to for us to stage a 360 degree political discourse that benefits the electorate? I don’t think that’s possible as the blog medium can at best only offer vignettes instead of whole disquisitions; a narrowed narrative instead of one that is able to encompass the larger geography of that allows the electorate to take a sweep of the political landscape – as I have highlighted in one of my earlier blog entries when TOC staged the event of the year; its akin to a man stepping into larger than life shoes, they were bound to take a fall on the very step – and to the preceptive reader the nub of my decision is not based on the card boardish idea the PM forwarded about foreign funding or interference – if that were really a water tight argument then how does one even begin squaring off that idea with cocktail slurping diplomats who regularly make disparaging remarks about our neighbors – isn’t that tantamount to foreign interference? – to me that has to be a red herring. The main contention remains – can a blog be fashioned as a public square to air out all the political set pieces exhaustively? Does it serve as an effective means to create a quorum that stimulates deep spirited discussion?
I admit in Singapore that the notion of the public square may have been monopolized by the custodians of power to deny even the opposition a voice – but that is not the issue, no doubt that may have accounted for the motivation and why so many opposition parties took to that idea of the greatest political event of the year like fish to water. But the question still stands: can a blog be an effective political public square?
That I shall leave to you, the perceptive reader to decide. As for me the answer is a definite NO!
In addition I cant help but feel part of TOC’s relegation from blogoland and redesignation as a political entity is partly due to its misplaced vanity and delusional conviction that whatever it has to offer to readers was irresistible – at some point they may have even begun to believe in their own righteousness that eventually skewered their objectivity and that may have affected their judgement.
To exacerbate their already delusional state they may have even regarded themselves as the gold standard of blogging. Indeed, one might go on for a long time chronicling all the reasons why TOC cannot be described as anything but dull as a blog site; but we ought perhaps to avoid the temptation of tabloid history and pursue the one question that no one seems to be asking: when TOC stepped out of their skin as a blog and staged a catastrophically successful political event of the year could they still remain a blog – in my book once a blog steps out of its skin and dons the political hat, it’s like circumcision – it’s irreversible and they have by default renounced their right to be called a blog.
To cut to the heart of the issue, just as one should never cultivate the bad habit of calling a spade anything but a spade; what do you call a blog that tries to something other than a blog?
I give you the facts you decide.
“My young apprentice. Let me share with you a story. Once upon a time; there was a wrly fox who believed he could be the King of the jungle. So one day he donned a collar of dried savannah grass, learnt to growl like a lion and painted himself a hared tan – then with great fanfare he announced to all the animals in the jungle; “hear, hear, I am the King of jungle.” At first all the animals looked at him as his demeanor was indeed grand; so all the animals offered him tribute and hailed him as the King of the jungle.
One fine day the real King of the jungle heard about this new Kingdom within his Kingdom – so he sent the wise mongoose to enquire as to the credentials of this fox King who was pretending to be the King of the jungle.
When the fox heard what the mongoose had to say, he flew into a rage and declared in a booming voice to all the animals of his Kingdom – ”this fool doesn’t know how powerful I am, so be it. I am going to show him, who is boss.” And that was the day when he issued a challenge to that other King of the jungle – so the die was set, a race would be held in the river – the first lion to cross this treacherous stretch of waters would be judged the real King to rule over the animal Kingdom.
On the appointed day; all the animals in the jungle took their positions in the both sides of the river; even the crocodiles would were usually indifferent seemed spell bound by this event – when the Rhino rented loud signal the start – the Kings dived into the river.
It did not take the fox in the clothing of the lion to emerge as the clear winner by a good ten lengths – but as soon he stood on the banks tall and proud; his mane no longer had the splendor of a lion; instead it looked like a mop and the tan paint he had used to mask his dark brown fur had been washed off revealing him as a fox that the maker had made him.
As the fox stood at the rivers edge pounding his chest that he was indeed the worthy King – all the animals in the jungle looked on and some where in the crowd even the oyster who was famous for having a mouth as tight as drum was heard to saying, “he is no King maker!”
And so the fox was dun in by the rest of the animals. Tell me apprentice, what do you think is the moral of the story? You would do well one day to tell this story to your children my young apprentice as this is wisdom.”
The Book of Ages – Chapter: Wisdom – Pages 3,039 / the Mallabar incident – recorded by the Chronicler of the Brotherhood 2011
(To increase the font in this essay – hold down the Ctrl key and keep pressing +)
With the general elections just around the corner – one question will be pushed to the forefront of every netizen who is interested in politics: will the internet be the game changer in the determining the outcome of the political landscape in Singapore?
Obama’s ripping campaign would suggest there can be little doubt the Internet certainly played a decisive role in securing his Presidency, not only has the power of the internet been cited as playing a larger than life role in upending the public consciousness that kicked out Bush & Co. But it has also redefined the way political battles are waged in the way the advent of the tank rendered trench warfare obsolete. Closer to home, in Malaysia, in the last general elections, the opposition managed the miraculous feat and pulled the rug underneath the ruling Barisan Nasional Party – when anti-government sites and blogs, as well as the YouTube phenomenon were mobilized by the opposition to exploit chinks in the armor of the ruling hegemony which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for the past 50 years.
Will we see the same phenomenon in the next general elections in Singapore?
Though one can wax lyrical how the internet has managed to smash the monopoly of information by making real news more accessible. Or how the emergence of the Internet has now provided the opposition an alternative platform to spread their political memorandum despite state sanctioned blockades and blackouts – this picture of the internet as the great wonder weapon misleads on a few counts. Firstly, it fails to inform us what social, economic and political conditions needs to be present before the internet can be weaponized; secondly, as much as we all like to believe the internet is some great equalizer; when you strip it right down to its bare chassis, it’s nothing more than just a ingenuous means of disseminating information; one could even say just like the invention of the Guttenberg press, radio and television; the internet falls into the same genre. To put it another way it’s just a tool, nothing more or less – so what’s needed here is context and the need to appreciate just because Singapore happens to be the most wired country doesn’t really mean anything. For all you know all of them are logging in to check the latest TOTO results. Something more is required…..much more.
However, where the internet may be able to confer a competitive advantage to challenge the ruling hegemony is when the right conditions present themselves where it can be weaponized; and what continues to confound me till this days is how so many are prepared to forget those conditions that first allowed Obama and Anwar Ibrahim to unseat their opponents – consider this would Obama be able to secure his presidency as easily as he did if not for the disastrous decision of the Bush administration to prosecute an ill conceived war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would it have been possible for the opposition in Malaysia during the last election to garner so many seats had it not been for the melancholic mood of most Malaysians who had felt (real or imagined) disenfranchised and marginalized by the ill conceived policies of the ruling Barisan Nasional Party?
My point is simply to demonstrate the nexus between what condition first needs to exist before we can even moot the idea of whether the internet is a force that can bring about transformation change in the political landscape.
this I admit may appear to be a novel idea as whenever academics, political pundits and even bloggers broach this question they frequently fail to ask what conditions were first operable in the first instance that allowed the internet to confer a competitive advantage to the underdog- this omission is akin to placing the cart before the horse – and at best it misleads as not only does it attempt to frame the question via a presentist vantage but it promotes the importance of technologically possibilities to the upper reaches of faith; where it may even have very little to do with what role the internet played in the sequence of cause and effect – that’s not so different from saying just because primates were the first species to be blasted into space, monkeys are currently designing spaceships to go to Mars – my point is they were just there for the ride and in the same vein when we ask ourselves whether the internet once played a pivotal role in effecting transformational political change elsewhere – it too could just be there for the ride. We would do well to step away from the hype and spin that so often skewers what the internet can do and instead focus on what it cannot do – a good place to begin may be to interrogate further on those conditions that once allowed technology to gain a foot hold on the collective consciousness along with why, who and how – if we proceed along this renewed line of logic; it’s conceivable the internet may not even have played a preponderant role in the process triggering political change – here its necessary for the perceptive reader to understand just because something has the power for agency; this need not necessarily imply in the absence of certain preconditions it can be directed to a specific goal - for instance intercontinental ballistic missiles may have once been the main montage of the cold war; but who denies the capability to deliver a pre-emptive strike was secondary to how it eventually morphed into mere chess pieces and bargaining chips in the geo-political chessboard – granted, we can argue till the cows return to their pens whether detente, peaceful co-existence along with the whole idea of balance of power would have even been possible had it not been for the invention of rocketry – but if memory serves no country has ever been nuked since WW2. Otherwise this essay would be written in a stone tablet in a cave and delivered to you via homing pigeons – however what we can say is the invention of the modern rocket, certainly created the “right conditions,” to effect change through diplomacy thereby allowing certain states a competitive advantage which would otherwise have been impossible.
By the same token while palpably true the internet is indeed an awesome tool thereby allowing anti-establishment rhetorical essays to be churned at the lowest cost of entry; that by itself cannot confer any competitive to the opposition – in the absence of acute social, cultural and political concerns – its just the equivalent of a kid ridding a bike throwing out gripes and insults (or in my case a letter in bottle thrown by a man in an obscure shark infested island)
I am not suggesting for one moment; the internet is facile or that its so powerless it can do nothing whatsoever to color the collective consciousness – for one just like its cold war predecessor the intercontinental ballistic missile, its reach and ability to lance right into the nucleus of the collective consciousness is impressive; one only needs to note how Obama’s Presidential election speeches was watched in YouTube by millions all over the world at a cost, speed and accessibility that would have once required millions in terms of advertising and man hours. The same could be said about how Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition managed to overeach the high wire fence set up by BN by using the internet – but what’s seldom discussed is would all these gains have been possible if the mainstream newspapers provided fair coverage to the opposition during the election campaign? Creating the perfect conditions for an increasingly politically conscious electorate to seek out information from the alternative online news sites such as Malaysiakini and other political blogs. My point was what made change possible was firstly the presence of mass discontentment.
And this underscores the valence between mass discontent and technology and what it may achieve – they should be viewed as one of the same reality whenever we consider whether the internet can effect political change.
If the internet has brought about any measurable change that we can discern without too much fuss it is perhaps how it has managed to transform the way politics is conducted in Singapore and elsewhere – as the ability to interrogate, collaborate and verify facts now makes it easier to prove a politician wrong and in some cases such as the Wikileaks dumps reduce governments to a bunch of shambolic mumblers – but can barbed repartees and cyber snipperism alone translate into competitive advantage when we talk about the serious business of using the internet as an agent to effect political change?
Where I believe the internet can be weaponized to deal a decisive blow to the ruling hegemony, not only the PAP but any other government of the day is when the MSM political discourse becomes so disconnected with the ground swell that it can no longer effectively contain the cognitive dissonance under conditions of peace if not civility. Along with failing to include a diverse range of moral, ideological and philosophical opinions – as when the political narrative is narrowed, bracketed or worst subverted to only the voice of officialdom and drowns out all others – then I say you are looking for trouble and I assure you find it you will – when even divergent opinions (providing they do not threaten the peace, stability and racial harmony) are seen as subversive instead of just one of many ways to pursue generally accepted ends – not only has there been a failure to manage conflict intelligently and imaginatively; but an accretion of state inspired marginalization can only find expression in that real quarter of the Internet, not covert fake sites like TR – this is the main reason why I believe Potemkin sites that ape the form of an opposition is a disservice to the whole idea of creating better Internet as it assumes the new media and the msm are mutually exclusive entities: when they are infect one of the same – so long as the custodians of power believe they can manage the discontent online by aping an opposition form while continuing to wordsmith a diametrically opposite narrative in through the msm – the truth will eventually peel away and find itself allying with the real internet and threaten the ideal – the cohesion of Singaporean society must always be stronger than its divisions if the goal is to create an Internet that is able to bring about constructive change – for this reason, it profits us naught to inure the ranks of those who may be planning how best to deal with the hubris of the internet with blinkered people whose only preoccupation seems to be worrying endlessly that inviting divergent views into the public square runs the risk of imperiling the status quo ante – or behaving as if their role is to dole out brownie marks for what they consider right, appropriate or kosher (that sort of attitude typically provokes a go fuck your mother attitude from most netizens, if you are offended by my candor, please move on to the next excellent article somewhere else….still here?).
Now you understand why creating fake opposition sites like TR serves no one in the long term. Instead they should be replaced with real people who hold real views and are driven by real ideals, if we are to stand any chance of creating a good in our society through this new technology.
I have no illusions as to how best to deal with this erudite cyber trooper do gooders who are currently running Potemkin sites such as Wayang Party aka Temasek review – the best thing we can do to keep the internet moderate and sane is by purging them from the ranks and packing them off to the Singapore Meteorological outpost in Antarctica, where the only net they will be managing is a fishing net full of holes as they try their level best to moderate the feral behavior of deadly Polar bears.
Providing an antagonistic relationship between MSM & Government of the day et al versus netizens continue to persist all the custodians of power would have created is a die-die must visit Mecca for those who are marginalized, disenfranchised and dispossessed, but not in Potemkin fake sites like TR, but the real ones – now you understand why Temasek Review has to be created as it takes its cue directly from palliative medicine: what it cannot cure, it will relief and numb – its patently clear to me, the goal of Potemkin sites like TR is to prevent discontentment that usually finds expression ONLY online from boiling over and getting out of hand. the agenda is to short circuit and spontaneous upheaval. In the same way the terminal ambivalence of the aristocracy in France to the plight of the destitute and poor once created perfect conditions for pamphleteers such as Marat and his motley crew of Sans-culottes to unroot the system – or how the Shah’s autocratic fixation to modernize and secularize a backyard society stepped in bazaari culture that considers all Western influences anathema led to a backlash where loud speakers in minarets were weaponized to send him off packing for good.
Should that day dawn where the right conditions suddenly finds itself pushing itself out from fake opposition of sites like TR into the domain of the real then change will occur and the Internet will be that acquire the agency to effect changed – then in my book should that day come the government of the day has to bear part of that blame – as a significant part of the anatomy of failure that accounts for their inertia to engage the internet sincerely so far can at best be described as a failure of imagination to transcend the old fashion belief much of the brutish energy in the internet derives from some malevolent force from the lunatic fringe who are just bent on causing mayhem – and this explains why Potemkin sites like Temasek Review aka Wayang Party (soon to be the de facto online version of ST) have to exist – the goal is to create a forum that not only guts out all deep spirited and meaningful social political discourse and serve up anti government soundbites – but to fashion some great sounding board that is able act like some giant agony aunt cum Oprahy Winfrey platform that is able to suck up all our gripes, grief and anxiety and resonate it – in the way an angry man beats away at a punch bag to dissipate his negative energy.
That’s not the way to create a better Internet culture, it’s the road to perdition.
In theory, even I have to admit its a great idea, but where it fails is it lacks the crucial element of authenticity. And without that one vital component in an age where we are all already marinating in hype and spin though many may still go there. For all their efforts and best intentions to maintain peace, they may have may have inadvertently created the perfect conditions for weaponizing the internet.
Its a slow and gradual process. The question is not whether this will happen but when. As Potemkin sites such as TR can only blow out steam; it doesn’t address the root cause of discontentment and this can only be accomplished with intelligent an deep reflective discourse.
Here one needs to press the pause button and ask the deeper question: why was Temasek review aka Wayang Party created? And here the question may very well be the answer. Consider this: what better way can there be to discredit the internet; then by creating the very form that lends credence to the much publicized belief the internet can offer nothing except bile, bigotry, vilification and everything that we would normally associate with the lunatic fringe? In short its the trite old game of reverse psychology – and there lies the danger – how might this occur? Well let us say I give you the dots and my hope is you can make those connections.
These days it doesn’t pay to be a open book. Only let me issue out one stricture: creating a digital equivalent of Hong Lim Park may seem like a great idea to tame the net as what it does is retrofit a pressure valve that allows steam to be blown out – this I don’t doubt may work for the next 2 or even 3 years – just as the Soviets once resorted building fake Western outpost along their borders to convince escapees that they have finally made it – only to realize its the most expedient way to debrief and clamp down on the opposition. But a corollary of that also means real thinking fritters away along with all semblance of critical thinking which incidentally way well be the very raw material needed to craft a better Singapore internet that stands any chance of forming an alliance with the ruling hegemony.
In short the adage is an old one that frequently repeats itself: its doesn’t pay to embody the form without the real content. Neither is there any profit to trade the short term gains for the long term.
For the time being, I don’t doubt, this strategy seems to works, but at best its a patch and can do very little to palliate the fears and anxieties of our age which so frequently find expression in that real quarter of the internet.
But let us leave that as it is, coming back to the question: will the internet be able to play a decisive role in changing the political landscape?
It would seem that answer depends on a certain understanding of the complexity how well technology sits along side the long bench of many of our fears, apprehensions and anxieties – but nothing can be further from the truth; in my considered opinion if there is one way reliably weaponize the internet; it is when sites such as TR do not allow real discourse to take root – instead the narrative is kitsch, facile and artificial, designed in a way to appeal to the modern age where the average reader has the attention span of a house fly.
But this is a dangerous game – as you can fool some but never all – and to the perceptive reader who would by now summarize this essay cannot aspire to be counterargument; anymore then we can expect a man to step out of his skin.
I say let the games begin!
“People often say the Communist have no imagination; they don’t know how to create online games; but they are dead wrong. They build a digital Great Wall that they call the Great Chinese Firewall – its about a 10,000 times bigger than Temasek Review, they staff it with stadium loads of cyber troopers and the game is to win the high ground somewhere in that space between your ears – so tell have they not created the ultimate online game that’s even better than World of Warcraft? They might as launch a satellite into space that can paint the night sky to broadcast to every hacker on this planet that this is the only game in town – better still rename the Great Chinese Firewall as the University of 1,001 ways how to drill holes; these motherfuckers think they are very clever; that is what I fear most in life, stupid people who think they are very clever – what they have done is weaponize the internet; its not so different from those Madrasahs that churn out terrorist by the busloads – hey, have you ever considered where do you think Assange’s army of the 3,000 faceless monkeys once cut their teeth and chalked their skills? Think apprentice….we live in a world of cause and effect…now you see why the question is itself the answer. And the worst part of this game is the higher those communist build those walls; those guys are just going to get bigger drill bits…now you understand apprentice why there is no wisdom when governments believe they can control the internet like fishes in a tank – and by the way I have not forgotten how Temasek Review once published by IP. You see I ask myself why, why and why….this unfortunately is something that few do these days – it is not that I am smarter than them; only I know only too well how this game will be played and even how it may end. But my young apprentice, whatever the outcome, it will not be a happy enterprise – as what they are playing here is a game called Russian Roulette.”
As the General election inches nearer with each passing day one thing is sure to follow in its wake – political parties vying to pitch their case for “a better Singapore” will be preoccupied with crafting ever more inventive ways of shaking up the average apathetic Singaporean from their stupor – some may resort to the apparatus of mass assimilation such as the juggernaut MSM; others will leverage on the wonder weapon of the new media through blogs and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
But as all these political actors jockey to get their message across to electorate – one things remains palpably clear – and the aphorism that best sums up this situation is to be found in Leo Tolstoy’s opening lines in Anna Karenina,
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
That’s another cryptic way of saying that most families are dysfunctional to varying degrees possibly even downright insane and have little to offer except grief – but all of them despite their flaws insist, they have something valuable to offer in the way of holding out the promise of lastinghappiness.
That is at least how I see it. When it comes to how politics is conducted in Singapore.
Observation suggest this to be a truism – as all the political actors seem to be pitching basically the same message – we will be happier if we all vote for them; this or that which rubs us the wrong way will be banished; the serpents head will be crushed; good will triumph over evil yada yada yada yada yada- granted, there may be subtle variances in terms of what points party A, B or C considers central to their manifesto and or what conditions must first be obtain before happiness can be mass produced before we can all make our way happily to the land of milk and honey – but when one takes a birds eye sweep of what’s really on offer, every political party without a single exception including the ruling party political hegemony are really only selling the same theme – a better tomorrow.
However what remains a cause of concern is how every political party vying for power seem to couch their message by appealing to our sense Nationalism and patriotism - the way I see that’s all well and fine, if what’s at stake is whether Singapore will win the next world cup – the problem is when Nationalism is regularly invoked in the political discourse – then the first casualty is depth and breadth. And what we end up instead is at best sound bites that provides very little to the electorate to make an informed decision which party they should vote for.
One clue why politicians like to appeal to our sense of Nationalism may have something to do with how presenting solutions to solve the emerging problems of our age these days is getting more complicated. In this respect punctuating the political discourse with liberal lashings of Nationalism serves as an expedient means to convey a basket of appealing ideas without really having to elaborate further – never mind that it fails to inform; or worst, dilutes the seriousness of politics till it has very little to offer to those who may wish to enquire more in terms of details. I am not suggesting for one moment letting politicians ramble on necessarily produces a better or more informative political discourse. But what cannot be denied is whenever politicians regularly appeal to our sense of Nationalism – the danger is they end up aping the form without the content.
If you want prove of what I’ve just mentioned, then go down and check out what the Online Citizen claims to have organized recently as the political event of the year – which incidentally requires not only that you suspend disbelief or happen to be so open minded that your brains are spilling out; as in my assessment TOC’s “event of the year” has as much credence as claiming some sinkhole in Geylang to be the Grand Canyon or trying to sell the idea of a puddle as the Marina Bay – while palpably true that it may have been a feat in itself to get all the political factions except the PAP in one room – if you’ve watched fragments of the coverage, you know what happened. The political discourse came across as superficial and even broken, fragmentary even. You cant dispute at best it was a great diffusion of energy where it all came across as a compressed, dumber, and shriller political discourse, that offered very little. And though we may assign the blame for the advent of sound bite culture stems partly from a collapse in standards or seriousness that should ideally characterize sophisticated and independent styled politicking – what we may witnessing here instead may well be a hazard of how the digital medium fails as a platform as a means of conveying political aspirations to the masses – though much can be said about the wonders of technology, it’s spontaneity along with it’s seemigly long reach as a message goes viral – that same technology through Twitter-sized sound bites has led to a shorter, dumber and wafer thin political discourse. My point is politics wasn’t always that way and here we would do well to consider the limits of whether leveraging on technology is closer to perdition or salvation?
Wonder no more why TOC’s so called political event of the year was as informative as reading a Reader’s Digest version of War and Peace – if you are wondering why it all came across as a muddled collage that’s because that’s precisely what it is: a big nothing! But nonetheless, one theme seems to be reoccur time and again if you all noticed, that’s right, the appeal to our sense of Nationalism.
There are plenty of reasons to distrust sound bite Nationalism. And let me share with you why – for starters, we miss out on the variety and authenticity of hearing people speak at length, and in their own words. Short snippets I don’t deny may summarize issues, but they are at best vignettes and can never hope to provide the coverage of whole disquisitions. In summary, we are left none the wiser.
The perverse effect of what TOC may have succeeded in organizing may not be the political event of the year as it remains inconvertible proof how most political parties including the ruling hegemony are still leveraging heavily on nationalism along with the idea of patriotism, instead of really addressing the emerging challenges of our times.
For me I have nothing against nationalism or patriotism per se; infact, I happen to think its a good thing providing it doesn’t try to be something that it’s not intrinsically suited for – the main problem as I see it is when the idea of nationalism is taken out of context where it’s frequently used a raw material to mythologize so many other things which have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do whether one should vote for party A, B , C or the lunatic fringe – then it becomes a problem – and a casualty of that culture of trying to compress whole meanings into soundbites just creates the perfect conditions for confusion – in this sense when the party political process makes free use of nationalism it’s just evil.
I understand its curious to hear someone label something as innocuous as nationalism evil – but that may be because you’re not really conscious that we are all hardwired to see ourselves in terms of an ongoing narratives – in this sense, Nationalism provides the perfect tabula rasa to sell any idea; in the same way ducks take to water, birds to the sky or how commercial airlines play blue danube to drown out the drone of ear shattering jet engines while soothing frayed nerves – to paraphrase they appeal to that homily sugary ideal deep in everyone of us. That idea is fine if you’re deciding whether to thousand island dressing to compliment your salad, but I am reminded politics is a serious enterprise that demands both rigor and depth – and this is why the insidious creep of soundbite culture into politics lately is such a solvent – as all of us, including myself cannot help but find all the set pieces that make up the idea of Nationalism consoling and comforting – I suspect, one reason for its timeless allure lies in how it tugs at the heart strings of our primal desire to seek validation from the tribe and slaking our desire to belong and share a common vision with those we consider our community – this is an old story that goes all the way back to the time when our distant ancestors used to gather around a fire and look up at the starry night sky and listen to Shamans recount the mysteries of the world – to me its old dressed up as new; only these days instead of pelt drums, skulls and chicken feet – we have pyrotechnics, catchy tunes, endless spin doctoring and of course the Internet.
My point is simply this, it pays to be mindful of how our mind tends to take the course of least resistance (that could be one reason why I seem to find ever more inventive excuses not to wake up for my 5.00 am jog) and if possible even treat this predilection as la constation d’un fait (something that is so factually established that you could even consider it ingrained and factual i.e you cant make an omlete unless you are prepared to break eggs.
As I said earlier, I have nothing against Nationalism providing it is pitch in the right scale to lend an accurate perspective to the emerging challenges of our times. I am also reminded run away Nationalism can be oppressive and decadent trapping us in obsolete attitudes where instead of continually searching out for the truth; or at least keeping scrupulously close to the evidence to allow us to make an informed decision – run away Nationalism is none of these things. Instead it is a declaration of faith – and I say this of not only the ruling party political hegemony but also those who may form the opposition – for what they do when they play the Nationalist card is they commit the sin of omitting, bending, exaggerating and contorting the facts to produce a story that satisfies certain primal needs: to slake of sense of identity, to take pride in our card boardish a la Universal Studios heritage (which incidentally is closer to myth than fact).
If anything Nationalism is just a sobriquet term that takes a basket of desires, gripes and aspirations and muddle them to try and sell a hidden agenda to profit political parties that just didn’t bother to do their homework – wonder no more why its the preferred crowbar for crooked politicians to pitch their case to an unsuspecting electorate - as not only do political aspirants know what buttons to press to pique our interest whenever they invoke the smoke and mirrors of Nationalism – but they even know how to sow the seeds of fear, anxiety and trepidation, along with selling us all the prescriptive cure.
In summary, its a con job!
What must be recognized from the onset is whenever the bullocart of Nationalism is rolled out; its primary aim is not to forward the truth but rather flesh out a crumbly pie in the sky narrative that serves to appeal to the primal instincts of the masses – hence the first order of the day if we are to fight against the pernicious influence of Nationalism masquerading as fact is to recognize it for what it is and to keep it absolutely separate from what’s trully precious and valuable, the truth.
“Tell me something Singaporedaddy, why does your tribe begin and end a conversation with the greeting, ‘long live the Brotherhood!”
“That’s an interesting question Al Khaleed old boy (Liaison officer of the Saffron route) perhaps its because none of us really quiet believes someone hasn’t shut us down yet.”
January 4, 2011
(To increase the font size, hold down the Ctrl Key and keep pressing +) – Important Note: This essay should be read in conjunction with this: In defense of the “admirable sentiment” in Singapore.
In the last 40 years, Singapore Inc has come to exemplify the whole idea of the pursuit of excellence – not a bad innings when you consider it all started off from heap of rustic fishing huts at the tip of the Malayan Peninsula. There is no doubt that Singapore Inc has managed to come up tops since then – there are really too many do and die stories to recount so for the sake of brevity, I shall spare all of you the yada, yada, yada, yada yarn. You can go to the NLB, ST and TR (soon to be renamed the de facto online ST) and I’ve leave you to them to wax lyrical till you are all blue in the face while you slip into a comatose state.
If I had to plumb to choose one word that best describes why Singapore Inc has been such a resounding success, I would have to say it may have something to do with how since its inception its been elevated to a religion. This appellation I admit may seem curious to the uninitiated, but when one considers how the idea of Singapore Inc clings steadfastly to the twin promises of the good life and has managed to deliver on that covenant time and again – then its all easy to remain bovine how the cult of infallibility has through time fossilized to a point where no one these days even bothers to ask whether this may or may not be the best way to continue creating a better tomorrow. Most just accept it as a veritable fact – to paraphrase, it’s a fait accompli.
However of late, the spanky image of Singapore Inc has taken a battering – the Byzantine losses incurred by both GIC and Temasek; the almost religious zeal in which the government of the day pursues privatization despite producing no discernible benefits to the ordinary man in the street; the mindless chasing of performance metrics despite exacerbating the already chronic income inequality; the super high salaries of ministers and the cognitive dissonance it provokes in the public who regularly fail to perceive any extraordinary value, metier or skill in the ranks of who receive these payouts. Along with the recent embarrassing dumps by Wikileaks which can only do very little to endear us in the eyes of our neighbors and much more which can really run ten pages – want to hear more? I think its best if we try to be kind to the internet and spare the bandwidth should they wish to reply (only be warned, I will unleash the ASDF on you! And after that we can all go to the UN) My point is all these motifs add up to conjure an image of a beleaguered behemoth that has has seen better days. I am not saying Singapore Inc is dead; but no one can deny it doesn’t seem to be as self confident as it used too.
And this should prompt us to consider is it time to rebrand Singapore Inc?
But before we set about tinkering with Singapore Inc, lets just press the pause button and take a closer look at what we are dealing with here; for starters contrary to populist belief the idea of Singapore Inc isn’t a neat pigeon box concept; if anything, it’s polyglot term that tries to encapsulate basically many ideas that can be boiled down to only one simple, elegant idea: government should harness whatever resources that is available in its inventory and use it to better the lot of Singaporeans and residents – nothing wrong with that idea – in theory at least – the problem (as I see it) is not that the nature of Singapore Inc is banal. The main problem is in this day and age; that elegant idea may simply not be enough to sell the idea of the gold standard of delivering a better tomorrow – truth is profiling the persona of Singapore Inc as everything to do with the government of the day is like trying to sell the idea that it’s a great idea to appoint Count Dracula as the CEO of the blood bank – I don’t deny that idea of metallic efficiency and effectiveness continues to exact a tenuous hold on our psyche as it can only appeal to our sense and sensibilities, but that is only because no one has really bothered to interrogate it beyond what the MSM regularly tells: its as good as mother’s milk- nonetheless if the imperative is to successfully market Singapore Inc to an increasing skeptical and discerning market Singapore Inc as a political theory and science then it needs to be able to transcend merely the technical and mechanical art of being able to deliver effectiveness and efficiency.
Let me put it simply, no one wants to deal with a vampire state and the problem to frame it succinctly in the language of call a spade a spade is Singapore Inc is rapidly been linked to this idea – its even possible the idea that once propelled Singapore Inc may no longer be in synch with the times: or worst still it has become so disconnected with those which it was originally supposed to serve that it’s a liability – observation suggest to garner a market share these days it is not nearly enough for a firm or for that matter the idea of Singapore Inc to merely sell the idea efficiency, delivery reliability and probity; as when we talk about building a successful brand these days what may be required is the idea of libertarianism. I realize this is a big word and some of you are probably considering tuning off (people like stupid me for instance) – but do bear me with me. As when we speak about the concept of Liberatarianism in the context of the marketing manifesto; the only this thing we are really talking about is variety, choice the most importantly empowering the consumer i.e shifting the power from state to citizenry – something that is able to transcend merely the promise of efficiency and effectiveness – and here for dummies like myself its best to consider Libertarianism as just a bag word that allows us to put all sorts of stuff that folk consider important whenever they make a decision whether to buy in or out of an idea – that idea may be something fanciful like being able to stand in a public square and declare that if you don’t hunch you stand two inches taller; then again, it could be something principled like the demand for moral coherency – for instance while everyone enjoys the sensation of lazing on a Persian rug; most consumers would be turned off if they realized it was made by 12 year old Abdul who was chained to a loom somewhere in Kashmir as his eyes fritter away these days that may just be the tipping point for them to vote no with their wallets – another recent case was the fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico when BP just couldn’t seem to get their act together to project the image that they have sold to the public vis-a-vis we care for the environment – the same holds true when it comes to personal investment; no one denies tobacco and defense stocks regularly pay out good dividends but some people just don’t want to profit at the expense of people and planet – you could even say it rubs them the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, we will all step on bugs and even commit genocide on the ant kingdom in our pantries – my point is when we discuss the whole idea of Singapore Inc in the context of a firm – what needs to be emphasized is people are increasingly demanding more than just effectiveness and efficiency.
One clue to this shift may be found in how everyone these days has his own idea of how to create a better society – many reasons account for this; the internet, the break up of the monopoly of information and perhaps even how the DNA of society continues to be spliced up to ever smaller segments and that simply means the single track ideal of Singapore Inc being the sole purveyor of the good life for both Singaporeans and residents is fast losing its appeal; against this chastening passage of change what it can really only offer is a Kitsch version of la vie de Disneyland – a corollary of that also means it will always fall short of expectation. As not only does it fails to offer variety, choice and most importantly the flexibility to recruit the consumer in different ways that may appeal to them – as since Singapore Inc is a centrally controlled idea it can never recruit the masses and instead limits the decision making process to only a few elites to define how we should all go about the business of creating a better tomorrow. This can only serve to alienate and disenfranchise many who may not share the same aspirations – wonder no more why so many remain terminally apathetic that they simply want nothing to do with being a cog in a goody good state sanctioned machine.
I don’t deny Singapore Inc may have once been highly coveted in the same way the Japanese once mesmerized the world with their awesome ability to produce quality products; but what needs to be emphasized is these techniques by themselves are not arcanums ; they have a shelf life and they can be uploaded and replicated with admirable ease – besides how sustainable is effectiveness and efficiency alone when even sweatshops these days where people regularly die like flies in China can churn out sexy iPhones.
Think about it!
In the same vein just as many once upon a time were willing to sacrifice their individuality and “freedom to choose” in order to serve the common good by being a cog the juggernaut Singapore Inc – these days even the idea of good is under assault and increasingly becoming so uncommon and malleable and even elastic that its hard if not impossible to agree on the collective object of interest that makes up the guts of this simple word. Hence the idea of yellow brick Singapore Inc road which once led to Shangri-la no longer commands the same tenuous hold on the public consciousness as the only way to materialize the good life. Increasingly many of us whether we consciously realize it or not are beginning to question the wisdom of Singapore Inc along with the fixation for chasing the buck at every turn and opportunity – take for example the idea privatization at first its hard if not impossible to argue against that idea; since we are always told recruiting the profit motive is the most efficient and effective to delivering value. So the theory goes. But what if the cost of delivering that quantum of efficiency and effectiveness comes to us at a prohibitive social cost? Then say what you like; but in my book the only thing the state has managed to do is create another appendage of the vampire state – along with debasing the role of minister where his portfolio is perhaps one rung higher than a postal clerk since all he seems to do is pass the cost spikes right down to the end user with the obligatory, “no choice lah” soundbite justification – and this should prompt us to ask, what is the point of privatization or for that matter the value of efficiency and effectiveness if it fails to bring any discernible benefits to the average man in the street and only makes his life that just harder and tougher to bear?
And here we might do well to press the pause button once again and consider whether we should place so much faith in Singapore Inc, that we don’t even feel the need to interrogate whether it can still be a reliable purveyor of the good life – if salaries rises are commensurate with the cost of living; then I say go ahead, privatize even the air and sunshine – but if not then how might we proceed to deal with the hubris of the widening disparity between salary stagnation and in certain cases even regression that only continues to vex thinking folk when they see the submerged classes suffer silently? As the cost of living continues to escalate how do we even begin to negotiate a way of to temper the steam roller effects of the profit motive that forms that backbone of Singapore Inc. How do we even begin to interrogate the broader destiny of our nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principles of equality and sovereignty of the people— who remain not only trapped, but cloaked in uncertainty and shadowed by lingering apprehension in this place called Singapore Inc?
We cannot. But we should. And that is the real tragedy of our age in the land of free…..correction…land of the fee.
“If I write another one of my sappy toe curling Korean love stories – I can easily garner 30,000 readers in the first year – and 8 out of 10 of them would be women – by the second year after the guilds have translated it to different languages maybe 150,000. So I can understand why they want me to go towards that direction…..I understand completely….they are very much driven by the profit motive.
But if I write a social political piece – if I am lucky I get maybe 1,000 hits, notice I don’t refer to them as readers because out of that 500 you must remember most are tourist, so its unlikely they would even complete reading the entire essay; even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of it, so they don’t count; as for the rest of the 250 they are just clicking on links because they are killing time, so they dont count either as its a touch and go relationship – that leaves you with 250 readers, notice, I have now used the word reader, but in the French sense only – but when you winnow this model habit readership further out of the 250 only less than maybe 100 are the perceptive readers – the rest are just poseurs, so even they don’t count and if you filter it further it is perhaps less than 50 real readers. That is the core, there is no more in Singapore.
I realized this the first day I stepped into the Intelligent Singaporean; I even told Inspir3d about this over dinner; he was not happy, but what can I say – that is the truth. That is incidentally something that both TOC and Temasek Review do not realize – they have no wisdom. They might as well go and try to transmute lead to gold or better still plough the sea. They have no soul…none whatsoever. All the hits in the world; like a tart all dressed up with no one to blow – that’s mucho bono sad.
So yes, I can understand why the guilds sees this as a great diffusion of energy and why they have been saying nasty things behind my back – like what a waste of time from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint this must be – but tell me apprentice, how many people did it take to start the French Revolution? Or for that matter the winter revolution? What about WW2 – how many Spartans do you think it took to repelled the Persians in the narrow passage in Thermoplye? – coming to think of it how many gamers in the whole wide world actually know how many people control the Confederation or even the Laanstrad? What if I tell you that for every 100,000 gamer only one of them really knows that they are even part of a guild – the rest are just logging on and playing, they dont even know that they are paying taxes, levies etc
I think apprentice, I have a far more accurate appraisal of effectiveness and efficiency than the guilds. Only I believe there is more to it…..much more that I may not be able to even describe.”