Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Content to stay mute


The Straits Times today wrote:

"Speakers' Corner...has been around for nine years. It never made an impact on the public imagination, possibly because many Singaporeans have been conditioned to not express raucous dissent or even contrarian views. They are content."

Are we really content? And is 'content' really the reason why Singaporeans are not using the speaker's corner?

We are content economically no doubt. But speak to any informed Singaporean about politics and you'll certainly get the sense of restlessness and resignation. Even I write this with slight trepidation and the knowledge that Big Brother is watching.

The opportunity cost for speak out is far too great in this country because there seems so little to gain and so much more to lose from it.

Indeed the potential loss of wealth and social stigma has been far more effective than any overt coercion to ensure Singaporeans remain mute on politics, or at least keep it to bed time talk.

The straits times article then goes on to say:

"Law and order worries could recede as Singapore gets ever more sophisticated and rich."

Are we assuming too much by saying sophistication and wealth leads to law and order?

South Africa for example has seen exponential growth rates in the last decade and still its crime rates have been increasing. China saw GDP growth rates of 11.1% in 2006 and 11.4% in 2007, and still crime rates are more than double that of the 1990s - China reported 4.75 million criminal cases in 2007 compared to about 2 million in the 1990s.

If we probe further, you'll also find crime rates in urban areas, which are more affluent than rural areas, have higher crime rates.

So where is the logic in saying greater wealth equals lower crime? Often greater wealth comes with greater inequality which leads to higher crime and gated societies that are ever more segregated.

But here's the best part of the article:

"Rallies can be in support of state policies and actions, not reflexively assumed to be challenges to the Government. If Singaporeans want to make a moral stand against war and hunger in solidarity with street marchers in other cities, it might be the beginning of the end to their famous parochialism."

The day Singaporeans are allowed to go to the streets to protest human rights in Tibet or the war in Iraq, would be the day when the Singaporean economy is on the brink of collapse and the government has run out of ideas to stay in power.

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