We may not often think of it, but there’s a very thin line between ‘govern’ and ‘control’. Every five years we gather to elect a government whose job is to govern – come up with policies, pass laws, set the general direction of the country. They, as our representatives, set the over-arching tone in terms of the economy, diplomacy with other countries, we take care of the rest. Or that’s how it should work. All too often governments try to step over that line, reaching into people’s lives to meddle.
Singapore’s government is an incorrigible line-stepper-overer. After so many years of enjoying power – largely unchallenged – they’ve got used to the idea of running things their way. And when things start to look like they’re slipping out of the government’s grasp, they leap into action to find ways to retain control.
The latest examples of this would be the Internet Code of Conduct (CoC) that has the whole Singapore blogosphere buzzing, and the new push to “integrate” foreigners in Singaporean society.
In the hawking of their idea to regulate the Internet, the PAP government has pulled out everything from anonymity to being uncivil to hints of extremism and terrorism. The whole “discussion” of the CoC issue has been fairly comical, and can be illustrated thusly:
GOVT: There are anonymous people on the Internet! They spread false rumours! They are rude to each other! They spread hate! There is extremism that will threaten our social fabric! We need a CoC! Let’s discuss.
SG INTERNET: We don’t need a CoC.
GOVT: Okay, let’s discuss this CoC!
SG INTERNET: We don’t need one. Leave us alone.
GOVT: Okay, are you ready to discuss?
SG INTERNET: Please leave us alone.
GOVT: Yes, we’ve heard what you’ve got to say. And now it’s time to discuss!
SG INTERNET: OH FFS.
The same is happening with the integration issue. Channel NewsAsia has reported that our new People’s Association Integration Council will be spearheading efforts to integrate foreigners into Singaporean society. (Quick side question: if the PA is supposed to be non-partisan, why is the chairman of the council a PAP MP and why are the only voices in the article PAP politicians?)
The most tragic thing of all is that the government is probably doing all this with the best of intentions, completely oblivious to the fact that they are making things worse.
People are not getting angry-bangry, emotive and abusive on the Internet because there is no control. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry on Internet freedom, the online community in Singapore is still fairly young. People are still a little giddy with their newfound freedom (however illusory it may later prove to be) after decades of unable to express themselves, forced to swallow whatever the mainstream media and the government chooses to peddle. Most of the more extreme comments made on social media platforms and in blogs are a backlash of the tight control the government has held over national discourse for the past five decades.
Even more control isn’t likely to help the situation.
Similarly, the root of the anger towards foreigners is not necessarily on a level where a PA-organised breaking fast session will be able to do much good. Sure, there are personality clashes and cultural clashes here and there, but I often find that the real underlying anger is with a government policy that has let in more people than our infrastructure is prepared to hold, driving up prices and making life in an already stressful city even worse.
The anger comes from the fact that we weren’t asked, that we weren’t part of this decision that has had such a huge impact on our day-to-day lives in Singapore. (It doesn’t help that the government that has come up with this policy hasn’t been able to convince the people that it has any understanding of what it’s like on the ground.) The anger comes from the sense that the government did not listen when there were early indications that problems were surfacing. Or worse, that the government is now implying that we brought all this upon ourselves by not being obliging enough to have babies.
This is not a problem that a community centre kumbaya session is going to fix. And since people are really angry at the government for getting us into this situation in the first place, it seems unlikely that even more control is going to make the problem go away.
I find it hard to believe that our highly-qualified government officials are unable to see this, that the solution to these issues is actually less control, not more. Which leads me to wonder… is it because they don’t want to see it, because acknowledging it would be to admit that there is a need for a complete overhaul of the way governing is done in Singapore?
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