Are Singaporeans Really Apathetic?

November 11, 2007

Are we apathetic? Before our kite flies too high, allow me to impose a limit here, by stating categorically, this article relates to only one aspect of apathy – political apathy.

Do most of us even show the slightest interest in politics? Or is apathy like the bubonic plague spreading insidiously across every major city in the world? Jading whole masses of people turning them into indifferent door knobs?

According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, apathy is on the rise. Hey, droves of people are tuning off, their interest in anything beyond how to tie shoelaces appears to be evaporating like camphor. Sex in the City these days is even garnering more hits than even what Bush has to say on prime time TV. Who can blame them? The last time someone had a conversation with a Bush, they found themselves wandering around the desert for 40 years. The facts speak for themselves.

In the Harvard study involving 5.1 million respondents, 87% said information was lacking. Neither did they feel, they had the requisite control to change things – that more or less accounts for why most youths these days feel disenchanted about politics. So there you have it, it’s a fact. The youths these days are not interested in politics.

I know these numbers don’t relate directly to what’s happening here at home, but they do provide us with a poignant picture of what’s really happening around the world – it may or may not be indicative of our current psychological state, but it serves to provide us a vignette into the possible reasons accounting for the state of apathy.

Does it suggest this is a microcosm of how apathy takes root?

Before we dive into the debate, understand this! Apathy isn’t a disease anymore than perpetual masturbation constitutes a malady, it’s merely symptomatic of a mental disorder, very much in the way, Alzheimer disease causes amnesia – getting the pecking order right allows us to ascribe a sense of scale to the problem. It doesn’t give us the solutions, but it actually allows us to make sense of how the apathy calculus works.

For example, after three shots of vodka, I am not apathetic about fabricating all sorts of tall stories to impress a cute girl in a short skirt. Hwever, I remain terminally apathetic to the prospects of doing the same to a two metric ton auntie even after polishing whole quart of the same. That serves to illustrate my point economically: apathy is a direct function that flows from whether we perceive there is a valence between being engaged and reaping the expected benefits. Or remaining bochap (apathetic) because it’s simply not worth it to pursue a lousy pay out.

Any discussion concerning payout requires us to consider the degree of control, we may have to either moderate or determine the outcome of a game. In this calculus, as we shall see, you could say if the opportunity to effect change is something resembling close to zero, then it pays dividends for me to remain apathetic – who the hell tries to change the color of the sky or tries to stop a baby from crying? No one because there is no pay out there!

However, if I am in a position to effect real and meaningful ‘change,’ or the conditions exist for me to do so, then it pays to be engaged. That in a nutshell is basically how the apathy vs engaged equation operates.

This leads us to consider; what are the drivers accounting for apathy? Draw out that line of logic slightly further and the question it produces is: can we even remain engaged and not apathetic in this age?

I believe this is how the question should be paraphrased as a large part of what makes us either engaged or apathetic beings, hinges directly on; how much control we can effect over our destiny?

Are we all just skeptical of the current political process? Well that really depends on whether we are in a position to control and even moderate the outcome of the political discourse?

That of course leads us to consider whether we have lost faith in our leaders and traditional role models? Could this be the reason why, we remain apathetic?

Perhaps, our lamentable state of apathy has something to do with the spin and hype machine?

Or maybe it’s got something to do with the dystopian trends of our modern times? We all know technology is always fingered as the convenient scapegoat for everything from school shootings to why kids can’t even string a sentence without regularly mangling it.

Are blogs to blame? Is the incessant anti establishment heightening our sense of estrangement, sharpening our sense of alienation even? Is it responsible for much of our apathy?

Well, to be honest, I really don’t know. As I mentioned, apathy or being engaged flows directly from our perception of how much or little control we have over our destiny,

This naturally leads us to ask: whether apathy as a human condition is necessarily normative or descriptive? As much as I like to believe it is either. I cannot, as it still doesn’t successfully explain why ppl take to the streets in Myanmar? Shouldn’t they remain terminally apathetic to a regime who has systematic eroded every capacity for the population to seek self determination? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

There lies the flaw in our model, it suggest attempting to classify the apathy vs engaged calculus will always remain incomplete without dwelling deeper into what are the conditions that’s responsible for this human condition? Much of this centers on how a cooperative system i.e political system, works alongside the apathy vs engaged calculus. 

Follow me here, bc this is the point, when the erudite will label me a heretic for very good reasons – as it represents nothing short of a departure from orthodox thinking.

Consider this: when the apathy vs engaged calculus is juxtaposed against the cooperative framework i.e political system, the main determinant of whether we remain apathetic or not, no longer turns on what we may think under X, Y or Z conditions.

Rather it remains solely a function of how the political system may decide to regard my state of apathy or engagement (there is a subtle twist here, dont get lost!) i.e can the system solicit the cohesion that makes possible a general state of commitment that still allows me to moderate my destiny successfully and safely? That would of course depend on whether the system is able to protect individuals and groups from the exercise of arbitrary govt power. In the finally analysis, whether one is apathetic or engaged cannot be answered mutually exclusively from that cooperative environment. 

“It has to be a question that depends solely on an examination of how many avenues are available within that cooperative system (political process) that allows for opportunities to effect real changes. In this combination of game theory and an appreciation of cooperative societies, the key to understanding the interrelationship between apathy and engagement calculus remains solely a matter of how the political system manages to contain, under the conditions of peace if not civility, a range of moral, ideological, and religious conflicts which allows one to moderate change effectively and safely.”

Darkness 2007 

If it’s unable to do so without degenerating into state inspired harrasment, persecution or to my “greater detriment” then one can say, “go and die lah,” and that can only produce apathy.

However, if the system is adept in resolving these differences of opinions even to the extent of accommodating the lunatic fringe, then it could be said, it doesn’t make one ounce of sense to remain apathetic.

This article will hopefully go some way towards rubbishing the assertion, it’s possible to simply draw a straight line that a society may either be apathetic or engage simply because such a question is posed – it cannot. Even if that question is answered in the affirmative, it has to be treated as suspect. As the first casualty in any apathetic society has to be the truth -it stands to reason.

The gold standard or best answer to the question, lies very much in the appraisal of the cooperative system i.e political process – whether it’s able to effectively recruit people whose views they despise, and try to fight out their disagreements through the pursuit of power under that system while being able to remain cohesive in the face of division.

That remains the real litmus test of whether one is really living in a trully engaged or apathetic society.

The rest you can throw into the dustbin.

Darkness 2007

Latest Article!

Are Singaporeans Really Apathetic? Part II

(This article has been written by Darkness, Harphoon, Astroboy, Scholarboy & Aurora: Based partially on “The Perils of Living in an Apathetic Society” / Socio –Political  – 2007 / Executive Summary 990399 – 2007 (EP 990399 – The Brotherhood Press 2007). 

13 Responses to “Are Singaporeans Really Apathetic?”

  1. dotseng said

    Hi Harphybot et al,

    Can you pls inform Bambi Darkness, this piece is doing very well, hardly even 12 and there are already 500 odd hits.

  2. Harphoon said

    Good Afternoon Dotty,

    Let me just say, you and the girls are doing a capital job. However, I really believe Darkness doesn’t care abt the stats. I am not trying to water it down, but I believe, it may be best to take a long term view abt such matters – for expectation and stamina sake.

    Most of the readers are logging in direct by now? (are they?) That is what KOHO informs me at least, but we are still getting alot of false readings, so if let’s say, you’re getting 1k of readers daily, its a good bench to just dismiss at least 50% of the readers as just tourist. As for the remainder, you always have to take off a further 30% for the look and see crowd, so in real terms, there is probably less than 100 or 200 odd real readers only.

    We have known this for a very long time Dotty.

    But just bc you get 200 real readers a day, doesnt mean, they are the same readers everyday, so in cummulative terms, you will certainly have perhaps 10 to 15 times that figure – that should be real number of readers and NOT the daily report card.

    If you need help on this area pls speak to Aurora or KOHO, I believe they have the specifics.




  3. Harphoon said

    Dear bros,

    I was informed by James of Team Raptor that they will be organizing a night ride.

    Pls note this is a 50 KM event, team assault, so check your qualifying times, if you want to be part of the race.

    This is commando standard, so if PLEASE BE REALISTIC. YOU WILL BE LEFT BEHIND, IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO THE MARK! – the route is as follows, Xilin – Airport – Prison – Xilin – last leg Tanah Merah (X2).

    So far only Nacramanga’s Blue Team has responded, can Red and Yellow Team RVSP? Astro Boy? Chronicler?

    Team leaders can you pls conduct a poll to see who is interested. We also need 3 medics to complete the team.

    Another thing the communal tool box has gone missing again!!!!!!!!!!!! Can the inconsiderate person who kapur it pls contact me to return it! BTW, I know who you are!


  4. Harphoon said

    Dear Bros,

    Pls be informed Kendo practise has been cancelled till further notice.

    We have been kicked out of TP for the whole month, bc the place has been rented out for weddings etc. I was informed by Uncle Ho (the caretaker) that is not the real reason.

    Apparently ppl have been complaining about the racket we have been making at 5.00 am, so I think, we would have to discuss this matter further.

    It seems to me everywhere we go, we eventually get kicked out!

    I would really appreciate it, if someone has the contacts to find us another location where we can hold our regular training sessions.

    Darkness will also not be avaliable, so our instructor will be Mr Hiroshi Kondoh. I will be having dinner with him and his wife. I would appreciate it some of you can join me to split the bill.

    Thanks and Sorry Dotty SLF is down for maintenance.


  5. pumpman said

    The toolbox is underneath Astro’s bed, has been there for the last 3 months. The only thing, I took was the torque wrench and the chain breaker.

  6. pumpman said

    I just want to say, the needle read on the torque wrench has broken off, but not to worry. I have superglued it back. I just want to say, when I got it, it was already like that.

    I have been telling ppl to use the plastic cover, but even that has gone missing.

    As for the chain breaker, there are no more spare blanks, all of them seem to be used up. Again, this should have been replaced.

  7. Nacramanga said




    We have 3 medics on stand by.

  8. Chronicler said

    Chronicler / This is the post by Darkness sent to Singapore Angle:


    “My question does not imply anything about whether or not all events necessarily have to conform to some Newtonian law.”

    I am afraid it does. And let me prove it to you. As what you are trying to accomplish here is to seek out rational lines based on either the normative or descriptive – that’s precisely my point, there is a fundamental flaw in that sort of model when directed towards the issue of whether we are an apathetic society?

    My point is simply this, my statement cannot possibly constitute a law in the strict sense of the word. Of course this may be difficult and impossible to even fathom in the academic sense, but allow me to give you an illustration of such a creature that even has chameleon properties to alter its shape and form depending on where its juxtaposed against.

    If we take for example economics – there is a law or adage that claims that man will always maximize on his opportunity cost towards a utility or advantage. So robust is this law it even covers both the normative and descriptive along with everything else to assume the lingua franca of what we consider today the science of economics. Go and check it out with your quantum physics friend – because he got the first part wrong in at least 10 to 15 ways. Maybe I should show him the error of his ways?

    The question is simply this, does that law always apply? That’s to say does it even qualify as anecdotal or axiomatic in the way, we throw an apple up and expect it fall because of gravity? Yes, it does.

    But if I am presented with lets a problem where a man may be able to maximize his investments opportunities by lets say investing in a firm that manufactures cancer causing cigarettes – how would that normative or descriptive statement hold true?

    Now if I screw on my Paul Krugman hat, I can say, he will definitely invest because there is a good return on investment – but what, if this man believes that the whole idea of materializing a profit (maximizing his utility) is morally reprehensible as he considers the tobacco industry to be nothing more than a blood sucking industry? This man doesn’t mind materializing a profit, but he draws the line when it harms people and planet.

    Ah under those conditions, as you can see whatever statements either I or Paul Krugman have made concerning: how humans would behave under X, Y or Z conditions have been considerably altered – Q: is my initial statement still valid? I would say yes but like this illustrated example it MUST take stock of this one man.

    That is the reason why I said, neither and that is very different from not answering the question, it just means throwing out the entire model, which is completely different from what you have suggested.

    But before we continue allow me to make it clear that NO where did you EVER mention the need to frame the question in the political context – so when you asked the question, you cannot expect to deploy my ESP skills, surely? Unless of course you can show me a post and I will gladly retract my statement.

    If we consider the ‘workings’ (lack of a better word) of my formula against a pre-existing political framework that I have mentioned concerning how people would be likely or unlikely to be apathetic – then how can I possibly answer question 2? Without cancelling out my first statement? Can you please explain that?

    Perhaps you can simulate the outcomes and suggest how this can be reasonably even accomplished, because from answer (1), it automatically renders null and void the need to even answer question No 2 that you posed. I would have expected you to have drawn the logical conclusion, obliquely at least, but obviously you did not get the hint, so let just say it clearly: you used the wrong model.

    Pls read this and do ask your quantum physics side kick to do the same, I have taken the liberty of writing the article to explain how the matter should be rightly discussed:

    You most welcome lah!

    Darkness 2007


    Time log: 09932

  9. Chronicler said

    The post before is response to the following:

    Pls go to Singapore Angle to see the thread on Apathy.

    Darkness: You said:

    [a]…if you believe, there is a pay out or advantage in being engaged, then it doesn’t pay to be apathetic. [b] But if you are not in a position to effect change or to even moderate the outcome by a bit – then, it makes perfect sense to remain apathetic.

    And I asked if either or both statements ([a] and [b]) meant to be descriptive or normative. And you answered

    Neither, that’s only possible if you believe the question can be ALL inclusive. Or that all events necessarily have to conform to some Newtonian law. They cannot.

    In case that’s not clear to you, let me ask this again–this is a purely elementary question that shouldn’t stump anyone. Take just [a], are you saying:

    (1) As a matter of fact, people are such that if they believe that there is a pay out or advantage in being engaged, then they won’t be apathetic.

    -or- are you saying:

    (2) If you–as an agent faced with the choice of being engaged or apathetic–if you should believe that there is a pay out or advantage in being engaged, then it wouldn’t make sense for you to be apathetic.

    In other words, are you saying something about how people are, or are you saying something about how what the sensible choice would be given one’s beliefs? Your statement allows for both readings and I want to be sure which is it you meant.

    Or perhaps you meant to say both? (Not impossible though unlikely for other reasons.)

    My question does not imply anything about whether or not “all events necessarily have to conform to some Newtonian law” (I don’t think they do, or so the quantum physics people assure me anyway; but that’s not the point). The question is about just what is the exact sense of what you are saying, something that, presumably, should be clear to you.

    You have also not answered my second question about what you meant by “advantage”.

    As for the rest, of course we (probably) cannot answer the question “are we apathetic?” objectively without first considering all sorts of things, including such all important stuff as the nature of the the political system in which the question is framed, etc., etc. But even in making the claim (reported in the previous sentence), you do mean something rather than nothing by the question “are we apathetic”–and saying of it that it cannot be answered without considering all sorts of whatever. And so we are still back at square one: what does the question exactly mean? Which of course leads us right back to: what does it mean to say either that Singaporeans are or are not apathetic?

    Or are you already granting the correctness of my account and saying of it (either as P1, or P2 or P1.1) that it cannot be answered without consider etc.? If so, sure, probably. But I’ve not gotten near the issue of the conditions under which the proposition (either as P1, or P2 or P1.1) can be confirmed or disproved. One thing at a time.

    Posted by Huichieh | November 12, 2007 6:17 PM

  10. scholarboy said

    Now you know why I buy my own.

  11. scholarboy said

    I just want to say this, we buy alot of stuff and everything just ends up underneath AB’s bed, cycling, kendo, climbing gear, the list goes on and on, there are all sorts of stuff under his bed and I am just wondering, why other people can’t seem to spread the load?

  12. […] transition theory applied to Sg – Yawning Bread: Minorities and state protection – Just Stuff: Are Singaporeans Really Apathetic? – In the land of the blind..: IMBS’s War on Everything: Satire on STforum – Mollymeek: […]

  13. Darkness said

    Understand this! Are we an apathetic society? That question cannot be successfully answered without dwelling deeper into the linkages between citizens and existing political system – why have I used the Material Resource Planning chassis to flesh out much of what I believe to be the calculus that defines the apathy vs engagement?

    What is MRP first of all? Contrary to popular belief it is NOT a human resource logic, it is a closed loop system which attempts to link all the functionalities within a firm to one overriding objective: supplying demand efficiently without incurring wastages to turn a good ROI.

    Of course this assumption takes it as fact, if we superimpose the whole idea of why people tend towards apathy instead of being engaged, it is not all together so different from why a consumer would prefer to buy Y product instead of X. Neither can it be so different from why you would plumb to watch Z movie instead of E.

    Central to the whole decision making process is the idea of perceived valued and everything that goes with it, penalties, resources allocated, opportunity cost etc In this formula, a buy (engaged) decision or a ‘don’t want to buy (apathetic) response is the idea of expected payout – that in a nutshell is why I believe the MRP logic supplies ‘a way’ of making sense of the relationship between these two competing claims and I have even used it as the structural template.

    Having said that there is no art in being able fulfill market expectation, any firm can more or less accomplish this to their greater detriment, its just a matter of resource allocation, but it takes considerable planning and resource management skills to accomplish this balance while successfully being able to generate a profit, this is something that you always have to bear in mind – that is the goal.

    Follow me here – because this is the point when I will do something that is so heretical that it even defies logic, but nonetheless, it doesn’t take a stretch of the lateral train to see how MRP logic and how it’s able to manage the relationship between firm and market can be effectively used as a model to make sense of the relationship between state and citizen in the context of the apathy vs engaged debate.

    If we stack the MRP logic to the political / citizen context and what do you get? Can I as the government of the day provide citizens with opportunities to stay engaged while being able to effectively maintain power? Yes, of course, but once again there is no mystery or art here as that can be accomplish if cost of doing so never featured in this equation. That brings into focus the need to manage and even mitigate the cost of pursuing such a strategy. What if the cost of an engaged society leads to sectarian violence, revolution and even civil war?

    So the intelligent question will turn on whether its possible for the government of the day to deliver these goodies (that solicits a engaged state) while maintain control over the country as a whole?

    This is where the similarities which binds the comparison between a firm and a govt is not all together so different. What logic would one use then to determine the benchmark of efficiency, delivery reliability and the ability to balance the competing dichotomies?
    It has to be very close to MRP or even MRP itself –otherwise you just end up saying, we are an apathetic society! We cannot answer this question! Or something as ridiculous as I am apathetic to why Singaporeans are apathetic! And I wonder why?

    I must return to my work, but I have taken the trouble to explain to all of you so that there is no doubt – as for people calling me names, I have long got used to that, it used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore and if it doesn’t bother me, none of you should be concerned either.

    The important thing is, we attempted to answer a question that others proclaimed is impossible to answer and surely that must be progress in every sense of the word.

    My take is let the readers decide. I must return back to my work, thank you.

    Darkness 2007

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