Will the “REAL” National Identity of Singapore Please Stand up? – The Quest for Identity

December 26, 2010

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How important is the idea of national identity? Let me start out by saying that I have always found this supposedly nagging question of Singapore’s national identity to be slightly irritating – as there are so many ways to answer this question. Most people will probably tell you that the idea of national identity is a fixed idea that is inextricably linked to the persona of the state and probably the idea of citizenry.

Well I for one don’t buy into that corseted definition of national identity; to me, the idea of identity in the context of nation need not even be equated with the idea of physical state; it could just as well be something really loose and fuzzy like a school of thought, state of mind or even an attitude that is commonly shared by a community – the Jews for example before the formation of Israel, didn’t really have any political entity within defined borders of a sovereign state – but who is to say that precluded them from carrying the idea of national identity wherever they decided to settle – think about it – so from this, analogy, we know that the idea of national identity is not necessarily a fixed idea – in some cases the idea of national identity can be linked even to food and beverages – think kebab’s and Turkey springs to mind, malt whisky is synonymous with Scotland and in other cases – the idea of national identity may very well be just a characteristic; think diplomats with mouths as loose as one of those BP well heads and who comes to mind?

You get my point.

I guess one reason why some people remain fixated with this question is they see this idea of national identity as some kind of mental linchpin that unifies people and drives them towards a common vision. Then it follows, if identity creates a sense of purpose, fleshes out personalities and works to unite us all, then what happens when that sense of identity gets sloughed away? Do you we then lose part of identity along with sense of belonging?

I for one don’t buy into the idea that people can either be enable or disabled so easily – the only people who seem to subscribe to that nutty logic just happen to be the same people who claim the internet is some social solvent that will secretly steal the souls of people in the same way aliens suck up people with tractor beams into their flying saucers. These people if you notice are also responsible for forwarding the narrative that the social consciousness needs to be constantly defended against lies, disinformation and other “suspicious” sources for fear that it will somehow contaminate their version of the Singapore story.

And let me share with you all why when it comes to this national identity business it’s really horses for courses rather than what most of the rah rah brigade would consider to be only one definitive version of the Singapore story – for starters if all of us just sat back and took a chill pill and try to see the world for what it is; rather than what others want us to see, believe and think- then the first thing that hits you like a freight train is this whole national identity business that is so often forwarded by governments is at best a choreographed script – that is to say, it is designed for one sole purpose to provide legitimacy for the right to continue to rule; and this should prompt us to ask if what constitutes the guts of our national identity is something synthetic, artificial, superficial, false, kitsch etc – how can buying into it possibly nourish us? Since the function of national identity here is to perpetuate the mythology of what the relationship of citizen and state should be and very little else.

That presumably also compels us to ask, if we cannot trust the official version of the Singapore Story  to flesh out our national identity, then who do we trust?  

Where I might perceive a problem in the Singapore narrative is how it consistently fails take stock of the broader narrative that would have added further depth and breadth to the whole idea of our national identity vis-a-vis who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I heading?- I will be honest and frank with all of you. I wonder for instance if the Singapore story is so complete, why does it even need to stop ex detainees from speaking publicly in the National Library? Why was it necessary to incarcerate so many union leaders, oppositional thinkers and intellectuals under the broad banner of communism and even worst still under the aegis of “building a better tomorrow.” I’ve often mulled over the narrative forwarded by officialdom describing how in order to secure our economic primacy it was necessary to sacrifice so much of our elemental rights on the altar of the common good? I’ve even asked myself whether the price was worth it? Along with whether we paid too high a social price in pursuing some of our policies, like blindly pursuing free market fundamentalism which seemed to only exacerbate income inequality by further polarizing our society– I can really go on and on for ten or twenty pages, but you get my general drift – the gist is I am not wholly convinced the Singapore Story is what it is so often represented by both the custodians of power and the complicit MSM. 

I guess most netizens are already attuned to this state of cognitive dissonance – where they may even harbor that “something is rotten in Denmark,” attitude whenever the official version of the Singapore Story is narrated to them. One reason why that “once upon a time in a sleepy fishing village at the tip of the Peninsula…blah,blah,blah,blah,” is beginning to ring hollow may well be the paradox more people are beginning to flesh out their DIY version of the Singapore Story very much in the way folk customize factory made cell phones to give them that individualistic appeal – a corollary of that would mean stakeholders in the Singapore story will define how they wish to see themselves alongside the broader question of what it means to be a part of a community – in this sense, it’s conceivable society is becoming more individualistic than generic – gone are the days when society could simply be defined in neat pigeon boxes using a binary code of you are either switched on or off, engaged or apathetic, scholar or cookie cutter, functional or dysfunctional, constructive or destructive, beneficial or useless, team players or trouble marker – with us or against us – I think somewhere in all this mess; there might still be a sliver of land where we could even call home to flesh out an identity that connects you to me and beyond – only don’t expect my version to be similar to yours and vice versa – in a kooky sort of way, for all we know, what may continue to unite us under the banner of national identity in the digital age may not even be our similarities as in the past when the idea of common ground was king, but rather our willingness to accept differences and even learn to be at ease in the discomfort zone .

Darkness 2011

“Not everyone sees the world as you apprentice. You say whenever you want to say about Vivian Balakrishnan, but I say it was not easy to have successfully pulled off YOG (the Youth Olympics Game) – for starters there was no template, so these people were ineffect the pioneers, everything had to be done from scratch, it’s like flying the Kitty Hawk, breaking the sound barrier or shooting a rocket up into space for the very first time – so I don’t think it was an easy enterprise to pull off – but I also think it was spoilt.

Sit down apprentice, let me tell you why – when you think back about the Berlin Olympics in 1936, do you notice that no one ever talks about how Telefunken, first broadcasted it on live TV in Munich and Lintz – do you find anyone asking you why Leni Riefenstahl shot in 16mm instead of  the industry standard of 35mm film format, or how Afga first invented high speed chemicals just for this Olympics – coming to think of it, does anyone even know that BMW developed the first, gessenschaft planetry drive that today we call the automatic transmission just for the games – or for that matter any other wunderbar innovations – fact is this, and even the people today in the Olympic committee all know this, the Berlin Olympics set the benchmark for the Olympics games. Before that it was just a bunch of barefoot people running around in diapers in a dust bowl. But do you notice, the only thing people seem to remember today about the Berlin games is how Jesse Owens put Hitlers Aryan Superman into the dustbin and how the latter just stormed off like a petulant child – in the same way many years for now how many people do you think will remember the 1st Olympic games in Singapore as the setting the benchmark for excellence – no one, they will only remember it as the games where a blogger was arrested for using a four letter metaphorically. You can say what you like, but you cannot alter this cachet of opinion, as it is the truth to them and that is all they will remember.As I said apprentice you cannot stop people from thinking what they want to think. I am so sorry, really I am, but that is as good as it gets.”

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