Go with a smile!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance

NB: I wrote this post before the election results were out, and it explained why I thought that many people did not seem too keen on voting opposition this time around. I did not predict the landslide but it seems that I was on to something.

2011 was probably a romantic time because there were a lot of surprises. It was probably like the 2008 presidential elections, which was a once in a blue moon, extraordinarily hopeful election. There were a few dirty politics involved, like Vivian Balakrishnan smearing Vincent Wijeysingha. (Actually it’s not a smear that he’s gay. It’s a smear that because he’s gay, he will bring to Singapore an undesirable brand of politics.) There were a lot of people who are unusually qualified for opposition candidates. But two of the most charismatic characters – Nicole Seah and Vincent Wijeysingha – are gone. There was the novelty of apparently highly qualified people like Tan Jee Say, Ang Yong Guan and Chen Show Mao. But these guys have been revealed to have their flaws. I’m not saying that Chen Show Mao is anything but qualified to be a backbencher, but neither am I saying anything more about him than that. Tan Jee Say – based on his donning an SDP outfit for a few months and then quitting immediately to run for president, based on his denying Tan Cheng Bok the elected presidency, based on his nakedly populist and probably xenophobic name for his party, “Singaporeans First”.

I would say, in hindsight, that the PAP probably got into a perfect storm in 2011, and probably have an unnatural advantage in 2015. Back then, the hot button topics were immigration, or rather, overcrowding. There was the perception that the PAP was out of touch. And there were the rise of more capable people from the opposition party.

This time, though, I have sense a great change in mood. People who are supporting the opposition are not as vociferous as before. The PAP has not proven anything against the opposition, but it has put in enough slurs in there that people are starting to doubt that the opposition can do the job. Either that, or people have started to doubt that the opposition can overcome the persistent attempts by the PAP to sabotage their work. This time, there was the death of LKY, and people have been fed images over and over again of how Singapore has progressed through the ages. We have seen crisis after crisis in the rest of the world: in Ukraine, in Malaysia, in Thailand. Syria is in the middle of one of the most horrible wars. ISIS has risen. Europe and Australia are no longer safe from terrorist attacks. It has been exposed that the USA is still in the middle of a great civil war against its own black people. Even many people in the western media, who have probably got around their aversion to Singapore’s “lack of freedom”, or, worse, embracing it themselves, have given it high marks for governance.

So there’s a mental phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. When you have been fed so much information from people around you, you are loath to go the opposite direction. I see a lot of my friends having cognitive dissonance, and many who found the idea that Singapore’s opposition was on the rise 4 years ago so enthralling, are now changing their tune and saying that the PAP is the only one who can do the job. But everything that we faced in 2011 is still on the table. We still have that massive foreign worker influx. And in some way, we still have that massive foreign worker shortage, because the deeper issue that caused the foreign worker influx in the first place has not been addressed. The Singaporean economy is addicted to cheap labour. We still have a drug problem. The only difference is this time, we have less of the drug. We are still as isolated as we have ever been. There is a region to the north 2-3 times the size of Singapore and we are not making use of it. We are not building bridges to Johor in spite of the fact that they are probably, at the moment, the least screwed up state government in the Malaysian federation.

We are still suffering from the underdevelopment of the transport infrastructure. In the long term – when I’m dead – it will be resolved, of course. But still…

We still have a great disparity in income and wealth distribution.

We’re not going back to the good old days where being a Singaporean citizen guaranteed you a better life than all your neighbours. These days, Singapore can be considered as being run by a lot of foreigners, to lesser or greater degrees.

This thing about defence: in Singapore it is always about insurance. It is nothing but an insurance policy. There's no way of telling whether you have enough or not. It's really only about cutting down wastages, whether we're going to buy F-35s which are by the way some of the biggest pieces of shit ever made. Whether it has to be upheld as an institution because too many people will kpkb if we cut back on the military industrial complex, or whether it truly serves its purpose.

Part of SAF's mission is that we will defend the north against all enemies. This means it is equally likely we are fighting Malaysia, or we are fighting alongside Malaysia against a third party, in effect, we're subsidising Malaysia's defence too.

We’ve had a system which picks out the town council which doesn’t belong to the ruling party, and does everything in its power to sabotage it. Perhaps it is constrained against going as far as it did in the past. But if protesting against the PAP doesn’t put a stop to this pattern of abuse, perhaps nurturing an alternate source of power will do it.

We’re going to have to reckon with our neighbours, and possibly grow closer to them. Singapore may no longer be the shining jewel in the Malay archipelago, but just one more great city in a great chain on great cities. We’ll have to think about how we fit into this system. We’ll have to play ball.

Ultimately I will favour more democracy for Singapore. Not in general, but for Singapore, clearly we do not have enough of it. I’m not going to be a PAP hater like many other people are, there’s no use for that. Ultimately we do things to make society better, and my way of making things better is to ensure that we have a plan B. We have a steady stream of ideas that come about from outside the system and the rulers will always have to reckon with that. They have dropped the ball in the past. They have misplaced priorities in the past. In a way, the PAP’s vastly improved engagement with citizens on social media comes about because they have studied what the WP was doing in 2011, and followed it.

In this elections, I think what the PAP really wants is to claw back a few more seats. I think, if it matches the results of the last elections, it’s not good for them. It would count as a regression, because they’ve already pulled out all the stops over the last few years and they cannot stem the tide of ceding more and more ground to the opposition. What is lost about the 2011 elections, though, is that it marks the end of Chiam See Tong’s long and distinguished reign in Potong Pasir. The PAP have taken back seats from JBJ, Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen before. But it has proven that Lina Chiam wasn’t able to defend her husband’s seat. It could be that this elections is about the PAP taking things back.

But then again, it might not be the case. You see, many of the people I call friends are from the middle class, the upper middle class. I’m overseas, so I can’t actually tell what the mood on the ground is. Perhaps the PAP has most successfully reached out to the upper middle class, and perhaps the anti-PAP sentiment in the lower middle class is as strong as it has ever been. And why not? Things are as bad as they have ever been. We didn’t really expect that Syriza would win the elections in Greece. We didn’t think that the Scots would have come this close to an independence referendum victory. We didn’t think that the Icelandic people would jail their bankers and overthrow the government which brought the financial crisis upon them. We didn’t think that the USA would elect somebody who’s not a white male as their president. We didn’t think that leftist governments would sprout all over Latin America.

I suppose that one part of me remembers that PAP suffered four bad election results in a row, the GE, the PE, and 2 by-elections, and part of me knows that this election is probably going to either continue the trend or stem it. The next time elections comes around, it will give us a better idea of what’s to happen for the PAP. But then again, Chen Show Mao said it best at a rally in 2011. “How many five year terms do we have?” The next time around, I will still be alive, but I won’t be young anymore. I probably won’t be as excited about the elections anymore. Except maybe when PAP gets a real close shave. I won’t be as excited about another World Cup as I was about 1994. Probably I won’t be as excited about another elections as 2011.

In the past, people were intensely passionate about the political system, because it meant something that it no longer means today. Perhaps it meant liberation from the yoke of British rule. Perhaps it was almost certainly the only way you could be a leader of your nascent society. Perhaps in ancient Chinese culture, civil servants commanded a very high social status. (They still do, in some way.) But these days there are so many ways you could become a leader in your society. You could found a startup. You could be a well respected blogger. You could contribute to an open source project. You could start a band. You didn’t have to slave your way up the corporate ladder. The only thing that hasn’t changed, and will never change, is that you need hard work, talent and luck to succeed.

In many ways, the reboot of the Worker’s Party, following Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim’s stewardship, can be considered as a successful startup. There should always be ways and means to contribute to society. It doesn’t have to be political. If you want to make a positive change for Singapore, you can always join the opposition, or you could try to take over some of the running of Singapore by starting your own business. And you know what, if all else fails, there's always the PAP.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it well. I like the part about wastage. Cutting the defence budget does not mean we will be vulnerable. It can mean we should look at how to best use our resources. And the same goes for the other ministries.Only a properly functioning parliament can ensure that!
I am surprised that many opposition candidates did not rebut in this manner!

I am soon going to be in my sixties. Like you i may not have the energy to hope let alone fight for a bigger opposition presence in parliament. But I hope you don't give up. We need young people like you! ( i guess you are younger)

8:19 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...


I'm not that young either, and I haven't been in Singapore for most of the last electoral term. I can't say very much about Singapore at the moment but even from here I can tell that when people on the opposition side say that Singaporeans are afraid to vote opposition, it's not completely true.

One week from now I will put up an interesting article about this.

2:27 AM


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