Go with a smile!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Asian Values

Another person has made the news recently. There’s this scholar called Alvin Tan, and he uploaded onto his own blog some sexually explicit pictures that made the news. There were a lot of people who called for his blood and asked him to be relieved of his scholarship.

Now Alvin Tan is not Sun Xu. I can understand the vitriol directed against Sun Xu. Sun Xu was simply contemptuous of Singaporeans. I can understand why Sun Xu got upset with a random uncle on the street, but to go beyond that and call all Singaporeans “dogs” is just pretty vile.

Alvin Tan basically just uploaded pictures of him and his fuck buddy. That’s all. I don’t know why people are so Victorian about “decency”. What’s the fuss all about? There are broadly two types of people in this world. I suppose that’s why the political categorisations of “liberal” and “conservative” exist. The conservatives are usually the ones who rail against “sexual decency”. When you ask a liberal what “decency” means, he would probably think that it means that you don’t have a lot of people who are extremely rich, and others who are extremely poor. A lot of psychological research shows that what really drives our values system is determined by what people are naturally disgusted about.

We are born without our clothes on. And young people want to fuck and take pictures of themselves, that’s their prerogative. When Bridget Bardot was young and beautiful, she took a lot of explicit pictures of herself. A lot of people then were more conservative, and wondered why she did it. Well fast forward to now and she looks like shit. So the thing is: do you want to take naked pictures of yourself when you’re young and reasonably good looking, or do you want to do the same when you’re past 60?

People are born with dicks and pussies – assuming no birth defects. That is natural. Why make a fuss about it?

A lot of parents in Singapore are lamenting the “degenerate values” of youngsters these days. They will always do the same, because this is a constant thorn in the flesh. But the question is, does it make sense? On the other hand, a lot of these people are the ones who will bow and scrape before their bosses, and they are the same people who have made Singapore a place where the balance of power is overwhelmingly tilted against the common man. Shouldn’t I be blaming them for a lot of what’s going wrong with life in general?

There was this other episode where people staged a flash mob where you had a lot of mothers breastfeeding babies in public. There was a hue and outcry about it. Then I got into an argument with somebody on Facebook about this incident. He thought that while it was important to facilitate lactating mothers and make it convenient for them to breastfeed in public places, the flash mob was wrong because it was “indecent”. On my part, I think that it is very immature of people to be so disturbed by natural bodily functions of human beings. On the other hand I know that I still have to respect the views of others. Or put it more accurately, I don’t respect their views. I respect them, and I accommodate their views because I respect them. But in truth I don’t agree with their views and I don’t respect their views.

I get really annoyed that for most of my life, I have been told what to think, to respect certain views that I was never ever going to respect. I know that to maintain social order, we do have to be sensitive to peoples’ feelings. But when are those sensitive people going to be sensitive to my feelings? I am getting tired of all this bullshit.

Like I said before, a lot of the time people made this very big mistake of thinking that I’m an extremely horny person because I didn’t care about saying things out loud that were sexually explicit. For a while I was pretty happy to play along. But every now and then I have to say that I’m not really that horny. Maybe a little above average. What it really is, is that I’m really uncomfortable about the way how people think that it’s morally wrong to be sexually explicit. I suppose when I talk about sex out loud, it’s just this passive aggressive part of me who just like to, for once, wind up those same people who have been annoying me for much of my life. Every single time a liberal view in Singapore doesn't agree with the conservative view in Singapore, the liberals have to give way. Every time people talk about respect for other people, when it comes to liberals accomodating the conservative views. When has it ever been the other way around?

When I was younger, I didn’t agree with those values. Now that I’m older, I still don’t agree with those values. I guess people don’t really change.

To be sure, I still believe that there is a line to be drawn. Some people have told me that there is a nude beach very near to where I’m staying. I’m not really that interested to go there. There are reasons why I think that what Alvin Tan did was not wrong. First, it’s his own personal blog. If people go there and see it, it’s a voluntary act. I want to compare this to one of my personal friends on Facebook who likes to post pictures of her son who has this habit of removing his own diapers. So I see a lot of nude pictures of babies with their pants off. And who knows whether he’s been shitting? Well I don’t really like that because it appears on my feed whether I want to see it or not. Then there are people like violentacrez who have consistently been putting up underage porn and a lot of violent sex or deviant sex or whatnot. Well that is not good either. That crosses the line.

A blog about two consenting adults does not cross the line. It is not that it is “mild”. It is that it does not cross the line AT ALL.

So what is this thing really about? It is really about people who don’t think that foreigners should be given scholarships to study in NUS. There are right reasons and there are wrong reasons to give out scholarships. One of them is that you should enable bright and able people to succeed in life. But sometimes I wonder if the aim is to make sure that a certain sort of people that you think should climb up the ladder gets to climb up the ladder. That you want to pick and choose people who have a certain set of values, and you want to make sure that only those people who have those values succeed in life. Or an even more stupid reason is that the Times ranking system for universities has this component that NUS scores very well in – the “international exposure”. So it was originally scored with the purpose of rewarding universities who have made themselves more open. And paradoxically in this instance you have rewarded NUS for being closeted.

And I don’t really have a very good impression of netizens in this particular instance. They’re just really against the idea of scholarships for foreigners. And they probably want all foreigners to be stripped of all their scholarships. If this is their motive, and they say that it is their motive, then I won’t necessarily denounce them for it. But they’re just being hypocrites in this case. Alvin Tan here has just provided them with an extremely flimsy excuse to say these ugly things.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Radojko Avramović

It’s the end of the road for Raddy Avramovich.

If you remember, almost 10 years ago there was one of the most terrible nights for Singapore football. Singapore got beaten 4-0 by Malaysia at Kallang. I remember going to the office on the day after that pummelling and one of the older colleagues – old enough to not only remember the very short Malaysia Cup craze of the early 90s, but also the 60s and 70s. He was cursing and swearing at Jan Poulsen, who came to Singapore with a big reputation, having been assistant coach of the Danish team that won Euro 1992, but left with his tail between his legs.

Not much was known about Avramovich when he came. But within two years he helped to secure what seemed to be an extremely unlikely Tiger Cup win in 2004/5. And he managed to defend it in 2006/7. Those were two great achievements that should cement his reputation as Singapore’s best coach since Choo Seng Quee. It was very surreal – the first time Singapore won that trophy in 1998, it was seen as a very big fluke. The second time, luck was on our side a little. The third time, we were basically expected to win it and we did. Two years later in 2008/09, I was also at the National Stadium when the Vietnamese beat us in the semi-final match, and in retrospect, I probably witnessed the moment when things began to fade for him.

Two years later, in another Tiger Cup, Singapore even failed to get out of the group. Although things got a little better somewhat when there was a World Cup Qualifying play off against Malaysia (who won the last Tiger Cup) where we beat them.

Other than those two wonderful Tiger Cups, though, there were a lot of disappointments. Singapore never won the SEA games gold in football – largely because we were playing with youth teams and for some reason the youth teams never prosper. Singapore never qualified for the Asian Cups, and looked even less likely to do so now. There were times when we went agonizingly close. The time when Jordan beat us 2-1 to clinch Asian Cup qualification in 2011 was probably the knockout blow. Yes, Singapore got to the third round of qualifying for the World Cup twice - something that hadn't happened before. But the last time this happened, our abject performances against China, Iraq and Jordan probably didn't help much.

These days we struggle to get past the Philippines. Funnily, it seems that the days of Singapore and Thailand dominating Southeast Asian Football are over – the real contenders are Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

During those two Tiger Cup wins, I felt that Singapore played like Bolton Wanderers the Sam Allardyce Bolton Wanderers. The game revolved around pumping the ball up and having bigger and taller players to dominate in the air. It was also important that we had around three naturalized citizens to boost our numbers. It was a fairly unlovable form of football. But for a while we accepted it because there was so much excitement and drama to our winning those two cups.

But we did not capitalize on that step forward and things slid back after a while. For some reason there will always be idiots who think that Avramovich was a bad coach. One of the key issues is that there was one season when a lot of Singapore football players went to a newly-rich Indonesian league to play, and somehow got fat and lazy. The standards dropped after that. Singaporeans are really blasé about Avramovich’s achievements. As though those two Tiger Cup wins didn’t matter as much as those three Malaysia Cup finals we reached in the early 90s. I think that we will miss him when he’s gone, although it is true that he has taken the team as far as it can go.

Let’s survey the Singapore football landscape. Things look very bleak. The future of the S-League? Who cares about the S-League? Even though I’m sure that the S-League played a very big part in expanding our talent pool to find the players with whom we could win the Tiger Cup. The problem is that the public doesn’t really care for the S League. The brawl between the Young Lions and the Beijing B team was a nadir. The Malaysia Cup? I don’t know if Singapore will ever want to go back to the Malaysia Cup. I think it’s a step back if Singapore were to have only one team that could compete in the Malaysian league. I’ve always thought that there could be two possible solutions. One of them was that the Malaysia Cup be expanded to allow one or two teams from the S-League to compete. Another possible solution would be that S-League would merge with the Malaysia Super League. But either of them would spoil the magic of the Malaysia Cup for Singaporeans – the magic was that there would only be one Singapore team, just like Newcastle has only one football club.

The only glimmer of hope is that the Singapore team has done well in the Malaysia Super League, finishing runner-up. They are in the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup now, facing the prospect of being knocked out by the Army team. Unfortunately Lions XII are fairly depleted right now with so many injuries, from what I understand. It will be sad – I don’t care if Lions XII gets beaten in the finals by either Selangor or Kelantan, but they have to reach the finals. The Malaysia Cup final would not be much fun without Singapore in it. Not only from the perspective of Singaporeans but also Malaysians.

The next coach? Sundramoothy doesn’t look like a bad choice, although his strength so far has been in moulding a young team into a competitive unit. The Singapore national team would be a big step up for him and possibly he might want to take on that job a few years later. Fandi? I don’t think Fandi’s as good a coach as Sundram. Maybe if he achieves something with Johor FC he’ll be in with a shout. And anyway he has since spoken up to refute the possibility of being the next coach. Other than those two names, there are coaches who have won the S-League before, even though I don’t really know their names. Maybe a possibility is to appoint Sundram and let a bright young Singapore coach take over Lions XII. Maybe another possibility is to let Sundram have a dual role as Lions XII coach and an assistant to some bright foreign talent.

There has to be somebody who wants to take on the role of Singapore coach. However tired Avramovic feels right now, there is no doubt that it is one of the more exciting jobs in football. I wouldn't blame him if he feels unappreciated but if somebody can come in and lift Singapore football for a few years, it will be exciting.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Recurring Dream

I seem to have a strange recurring dream. I’d be taking a bus from point A to B. But I know that there is another location, C, where there is a coffee shop selling delicious food. And I know that it would be a detour to go there and explore, but I just can’t resist the urge. I know that that is not really what my career is supposed to be, but I can’t help thinking about how nice and comfortable it would be to be grazing in that place. The first part of my thirties has been about me being relaxed and comfortable. But the work doesn’t seem to get done.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Drama from No Drama Obama

The most stressful time for me academically was not Snowy Hill, although I would say that in terms of the amount of stuff I learnt in an academic setting, Snowy Hill had the most. (What I’m learning now in Mexico cannot compare, because I’m older now and older people are slower learners). During my “A” levels, I probably mugged harder than any other time in my life. In comparison, in Snowy Hill my learning was more contemplative, less cramming of facts but rather a considered meditation on where everything fit in the grand scheme of things.

I used to ace mathematics papers, but that day they came up with a question that I just couldn’t answer on the spot. I got an “F” for that paper and I was in a daze. That paper was the earliest in a grueling prelim period, where there was a paper to sit for every other day over a period of around 1 month. After that, I started panicking and for the next few weeks I probably worked more studiously that any other time in my life. I managed to pull together some fairly decent results for once. Those were not my real “A” levels, but it was probably more important than the “A” levels, because they formed the basis of what my teachers felt were my predicted grades: those were the grades that got me into Snowy Hill, not my “A” levels.

The reason why I bring this up is because I’m trying to remember one time when a person screwed up so badly that he’s putting his entire career in jeopardy. That was my moment, although I’m sure that in the long run, it’s what you do every single day that matters more.

I’m thinking about Barack Obama’s presidency of the USA. I’m thinking about how he screwed up the debate with Mitt Romney, and people said that he had the worst US president debate performance in recent memory.

Before the debate, it looked as though Barack Obama had pulled clear of Mitt Romney, especially in the polls. In the Democratic convention, he had two of the most popular people in America rooting for him and speaking up for him: Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama.

Not much thought was given to the presidential debates. People noted that there were only two times in recent history when the debates counted. Once was when JFK defeated Richard Nixon, and that counted a lot because it was the first time that presidential debates were broadcast live on television. Another time was when Bush 2 defeated Al Gore. In both instances, both candidates were very close to each other in the polls. People mostly assumed that others would not be so daft as to vote for Romney, so they thought that Obama would win the elections anyway. How wrong they were!

From what I heard, Obama didn’t look like he was interested in debating Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney told so many lies during the debates, but Obama didn’t feel like whacking him back. People were aghast.

Ultimately you had to understand what kind of a person Obama was. His father was an African who came to the US to pursue further studies as a grad student. His mother was a professor. Yes. Both his parents were geeks. Obama is a geek. He is a professor: first and foremost, he is a professor. In a way, that makes him ideally suited for the job of the president, because America’s problems are complex enough that they need somebody really brainy to untangle all the problems. But somebody as cerebral and as remote as he is might be a hard sell for the American people.

I think that there is a problem when things are too easy for you early in life. When I was in Snowy Hill I looked around me and I got the feeling that almost anybody I knew found it harder than I did to get in there. I felt that somebody born 10 years earlier than me in Singapore would find it harder to get in there, as would somebody born 10 years later. In a sense I crossed the bar when it was at its lowest. When I graduated, I didn’t fully realize what a privilege it was to be a Snowy Hill graduate. Now that I’m more aware of it, it doesn’t really matter anymore. In a sense, there is a real danger of not fully cherishing what you really own, because it just happened to fall onto your lap.

Obama had an incredibly easy ride to the presidency. He had just gotten into the Senate when he was selected out of the blue to make an address in the Democratic Party convention. At the beginning of 2008, most people expected Hillary Clinton to be nominated for presidency. But she came across as being too tough and too shrill. Things in America were pretty screwed up and it was incredibly easy for an outsider to present himself as an agent for change. So that’s what he did. He was the only candidate who was not tainted by being part of the current system.

Once he got into office, though, his strengths almost instantly became weaknesses. Because he was not a part of the system, his experience showed on a lot of mistakes that he made. He was never able to master how to fight Congress and the Senate. He is by no means anywhere as bad as Bush 2. But he will never be one of the greats.

Now, however, he faces one of the greatest fights of his life. It’s not like me doing the “A” levels where I had to find an extra gear, and I always knew I had an extra gear and never used it. Obama – well there’s no extra gear because I’m sure that he’s maxxed out. There are very few jobs out there that are tougher than POTUS. Not only that – his tenure as POTUS is probably tougher than – say both Bush’s or Clinton’s.

Anyway, whatever it is, I hope that he gets through this because regardless of his flaws, he’s still 10 times better than the president I think that Mitt Romney is going to be. It’s just like Al Gore is probably 10 times better than what Bush was like.

People are wondering what MBTI type Obama is. It’s possible that he’s the same type as me – INTP. Not a very strong I, or T. But other people who have classified him are sure that he is N and P. INTPs are pretty cold blooded people, and we know by now that Obama is nothing if not cold blooded. They watched him when he was giving instructions to kill Bin Laden: something that if it wasn’t handled properly could destroy his political career. His impatience with people who are not as smart as him. Don’t take this the wrong way but I probably could murder another human being and not feel too bad about it. I don’t do it because I think it’s wrong. But after I do it, I wouldn’t really have nightmares. I very seldom stab people in the back but after the one or two times I don’t feel bad about it.

INTPs can turn on the charm for short periods of time because they are smart enough to know how to do so. But over a longer period, they can’t do it because it’s against their nature.

It’s possible that right now he’s wilting under the pressure. He was probably sick and tired of having to put up with more of Mitt Romney’s lies. People are deathly afraid and some people are openly asking the unthinkable – does this guy actually want to be president? He doesn’t seem to love the job as much as – say Bill Clinton. It’s actually a pretty unloveable job. Michelle Obama said, “don’t worry about us too much if we don’t win these elections. We’ll be fine”. She’s a good first lady but a pretty reluctant one.

Well it’s not really about whether or not he likes being president. He’s the only guy standing in the way of Mitt Romney being president so he better be the next president.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Second Civil War

A few years ago, I was browsing through MPH, as I was wont to do during those years when I was a total bookworm. I chanced upon a book called “The Second Civil War”. It looked interesting, and I put it onto my “to read” list. Things have intervened in the meantime, and I found myself mired in trying to earn a second degree, but lately I picked it up at my school library and basically read it all in one week.

The story is something that was already pertinent in the years when Brownstein wrote that book, and it has grown into something even more important. The point of the book is a simple but powerful one: the divide between the Democratic and Republican parties has grown in the last 20-30 years, and looks set to grow even more.

In the post war period, it wasn’t always true that the Republicans were right wing and the Democrats were left wing. Yes, the Republicans were the party of the “Big Business” and the Democrats stood up for the “little guy”. But in the south, a lot of people were Democrats as well. That changed almost completely after the civil rights movement. In fact, the South were staunchly Democrat. Once the Democrats delivered civil rights to the black people, a lot of people in the South switched allegiance to the Republicans.

Now, in a democratic parliament, it’s usually the case that two parties have differing views over policy. Both parties will argue with each other about policy. But you know, in politics, both parties argue about more than just the direction of the country, because it is more than just that. They also argue about power: who gets it, who has more seats in the house, who has more support for their point of view. And sometimes they even argue about truth.

Usually, the fact that there are two parties in power who can bring differing views to the table is seen as a source of America’s political strength. It seems to mean that both parties can reach a conclusion that is often superior to what would happen if only one party felt that it had all the answers. The problem is that in recent years, it has become more fashionable to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. There was a great problem if you ended up agreeing with the other party a lot of the time. If you did that too much, people would start to wonder, “why are we bending over to the other side?” Conversely, if you took a more extremist position, you could be seen as a strong guy, a consistent and unwavering guy, who looked more like a leader that other people could look up to. Never mind that sometimes, when you feel so strongly about your position, you would make a few statements that are blatantly false (like the US politician who recently talked about “legitimate rape” because he just had to defend his views on abortion to the death.) Therefore people started to espouse extremist views in the hope that this would galvanise their own supporters, and alienate the views of those on the opposite side.

As time went on, the parties’ positions on issues became further and further apart. Ronald Reagan might have been a conservative who was fairly strong in his views, but he was able to compromise and come to an agreement with the Democrats. He said that the Soviet Union was the “evil empire”, and that raised a lot of eyebrows and ruffled a lot of feathers, but he was still able to talk things through with Gorbechev. After Reagan, the Republicans in Congress decided to become more hardline. There would be a greater emphasis on party discipline, and crafting policy that was designed to appeal to the widest number of people identifying themselves as conservatives. The idea was not to capture the center, but to appeal to as many conservatives as possible, while formulating policy that was as different as possible from the Democrats.

That was the way that the Republicans operated. There was a period, during the second Bush presidency, when the Republicans controlled both houses. They came up with a system which rewarded loyalty to the cause, rather than rewarding crafting policy that was beneficial to Americans. People who questioned the White House too much were threatened with being removed from important committees.

At the same time, there was a lot of polling being done to work out who you wanted to appeal to. Traditionally, the minorities supported the Democrats. But the Republicans, through market research, were able to find out which section of the Blacks and the Hispanics were most likely to support the Republicans.

The Democrats realized what the Republicans were doing, and in the end, they started to take a more war-like stance towards the Republicans. During the Clinton era, the Democrats made some concessions to the Republicans, but the Republicans just took them and started moving more and more towards the right, until they over reached themselves, and paid the price: from 2006 to 2010, the Democrats controlled both houses. Now, what’s going on in the US hangs in the balance.

This book was written before the Obama presidency. So it doesn’t cover events that are taking place today. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to draw a line from there to recent events, where the Republican party really really went crazy. It helped me understand the evolution a little better. They started moving to the right bit by bit, convinced that the only people they had to pander to were their own hardcore supporters. They have blocked Obama on many issues. Obama found it very difficult to get things done because there was a concerted effort to make sure that he didn’t do anything – in essence, the direction of the party was to sabotage the Obama presidency, knowing full well that if the American economy didn’t perform, there would be a Republican president in the White House in 2012.

Coming closer to home, it makes me think about what kind of a parliament we want Singapore to have. When the Worker’s Party talked about a World Class Parliament, they were sending a few messages out to the PAP supporters. One of them was that a parliament full of PAP people wasn’t necessarily going to be the best one for Singapore. Yes, the PAP people were probably more capable. But it was just better to have an alternate viewpoint in the house.

Another message was a more conciliatory one. It was a promise to work peacefully with the PAP, and not shoot people down for the sake of shooting. I hope that they remember this, and I hope that Singapore’s parliament never goes the way of the current state of the US Congress.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Thanks.

7:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

WP may not be the ones opposing for the sake of opposing. Remember the "Nigerian scam" comment in Parliament.

11:33 AM


Monday, October 01, 2012

The Revolutionary and the Community Organiser

There was this conversation I had online with somebody. Basically NYC was awarded the LKY award for managing their city or something like that. Then somebody came online and spat out at Singapore for a bunch of petty minded, fascist people. I argued with him that he was being a pretty narrow minded twat himself, and I thought he was just an insular NYC dweller who thought the world of himself, just because he came from NYC and looked down on Singapore. I was a little surprised when I found out the truth. A mutual friend put a comment of his up on the wall. This is what he wrote (he was talking about the newly opened Yale-NUS venture):
Yale's Singapore venture reminds me of the way I came to Singapore. The Humanities Programme was, and I guess still is, an set of "A: level courses offered to a small elite of students in the 'top five' Junior Colleges. It was started in the mid 1980's at the initiative of Goh Keng Swee and LKY as a way of luring top students away from the double-maths/science students track most of them had been programmed to follow. The idea was to expose them to humanities and social science subjects and then send them off to elite universities abroad. They would then return to an eight-year bond working for the government. Top secondary school students were admitted to the program based on their 'O' level results. The Humanities students were sequestered into their own "school within a school" where they were taught by mostly expatriate teachers recruited mostly from the UK. I was one of a very few Americans. We were kind of a "little public school" encased in the larger JC machine. We Humanities Tutors were paid an amazingly high salary -- much better than the locals and even the other expats -- and it was all tax free with large lovely bonuses!. The students that I taught were superb, for the most part. Many did go on to Oxbridge and the Ivies. Many went to NUS. Quite few have gone on to do great things. We tutors were given a great deal of freedom to teach as we saw fit. My classroom work was never interfered with. But Big Brother was watching. When I wrote something online the PAP found offensive, my contract was terminated with no explanation and I found myself unable to get another job anywhere else on the island. I had to leave the Republic despite my unquestioned success in the classroom. Later, I found out that my phone had been tapped and my mail opened. They have a very thick file. So, first of all, Yale is not "bringing the liberal arts to Singapore". Others have gone before -- and not just Humanities Tutors, but numberless dedicated local and expat teachers who educated according to humanist values and produced students who could think critically and express themselves. Second, Yale faculty will be subjected to the same restrictions and surveillance as we were in the 80's and 90's. Of that I have no doubt. I look back on my Singapore years with powerfully mixed feelings. I loved the teaching and the students -- and feel I made a difference in many of their lives. But i also came away bitter, because that had to end -- suddenly and arbitrarily. I think Yale-NUS better be prepared for much of the same.
Now, whenever I defend “Yale-NUS”, it is with pretty mixed feelings. I feel that you can’t really endorse all of it. I’d like to think of the detractors as people from Yale who are too snobbish to mix it with “mere” NUS. But it’s not that simple, because people who are teaching in Yale-NUS aren’t really free to say just anything they say. And what the detractors of that enterprise fear most – that the values of Yale will be corrupted, that it might lend legitimacy to Singapore’s dictatorial way of stifling dissent, that it makes Singapore look more “liberal” and open-minded than it really is – all these things are well and truly in danger of coming true. If I had to write to him, I’d probably say something of the following:
I’m sorry about the little skirmish, because I had always thought of him as somebody who only saw the downside of Singapore from the point of view of the New York academic, wanting to impose upon Singapore values that weren’t always compatible with how it operates. But of course now I see him as somebody who has done some work in our own trenches, so it makes things very different. My instinct is to defend Yale-NUS, not for the half empty cup of water, but the half full. I think that they won’t have very much freedom. But they can always make things a little different. It is not pre-destined that the educators in Yale-NUS are mindless automatons who endlessly parrot the party line. Some of us have our ideas about freedom as well. I’m moderately liberal. I’d criticize whenever I think I have to criticize. And I know that people like us have to keep on doing it. I’m sure that by now, my cover is blown, and whoever is out there would have a file on me. Except maybe I am not important enough for them to care about. But still you have to speak out, because you have to be part of the chorus. We are ants. We are snipers who hide ourselves and shoot from concealed locations. We do this because discretion is the better part of valour, that we also have a duty to keep ourselves alive and fight another day. People think of anonymous bloggers as cowards who keep their heads low. I also understand the story of the bear: there were two hunters who were chased by the bear. One of them puts on his running shoes. The other one says, “why do you even bother trying to run? You will never outrun the bear.” The one with the shoes says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you.” So what’s the moral? Even when you are criticizing the government, try to be one of the more moderate voices. The government will crack down on the most extremist voices, but you know that they will leave you alone. Therefore your voice creates the space in which a large army of dissenters can operate. The chorus is important. It is important to make sure that the main dissenters never feel like they are operating alone, or operating in a void, or that their concerns are not reflected by the majority of the people. And I know that I have a few Facebook friends in high places. I won’t be shy to let them read some of the things I have to say. I know how social psychology works – just one person speaking up, being skeptical of always having to toe the party line will have an effect on people. They’re out there, and they have to reckon with disapproval whenever they go out and do things that go against the interests of the people of Singapore. I take the standpoint that as of now, things are not completely broken. It will be more about nudging the government to do the right thing, and respecting the incumbent’s right to carry out their duties, even as I’m on the other hand perhaps trying to foster the growth of alternative parties, so that one day they will be strong enough to take over the reins. It is a pragmatic double act – after all I am a Singaporean. I will never know what he wrote online to get himself into trouble. It may have been moderate. It may be too strong. It may be that people usually expect him to an exemplary mouthpiece of the ruling party and its interests. This Wee Shu Min, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. Is she a humans scholar? I shudder to think that she was actually a product of a humans system which produced other people like her. I was from one of the top five and a science student, but I have quite a few humans friends. Things have to move in a new direction. But the revolutionaries are not Moses, and they are not leading the chosen people to the promised land. There is no promised land to speak of. There is only moving in the right direction or not moving in the right direction. Things can be wonderful for a few years, and then they can slide back. Or the other way around. That’s why I have this modus operandi – keep on pushing, nudge a little every day. Occasionally storm the barricades when a barrier is breached but most of the time, steady, tedious effort. We are not here to destroy. We are here to build. Nothing more to be said. Thank you for your contribution to Singapore.
For myself, I have chosen to be an engineer. I have chosen work where my political beliefs do not really matter. I could have decided to become a political science scholar if I wanted. But it would have been hard. I’d be a loose cannon, and people would just shoot me left right and centre for saying out loud what I really believe in. I could be a teacher, but once I allow people to see my real political values, I will be tied up no end. My role was something I played as an ordinary member of a particularly rowdy and rebellious class I once belonged to. Keep your head down. Incite your classmates to do crazy things. Pat them on the back for effort. Disseminate information and advice. Don’t get caught. Do this every day and keep up the pressure.