Sunday, April 25, 2010

(I realised after writing this post that it is insanely boring. Sigh. And all I had wanted to do was to throw spitballs from the back of the class!)

Watched Lee Hsien Loong's interview with Charlie Rose today, and I. Cannot. Believe. He. Mentioned. SARS.

A question from a friend about Singaporean politics had me feeling rather ashamed and ignorant, and I tried to do some brief research online just to understand the fundamental principals of how is it we operate. I came across this paper Asian Values, Authoritarianism and Capitalism in Singapore by Soek-Fang Sim, in which it states:

Rather than being a proud and self-confident nation, Singapore exists only through psychosis, as an existentially anxious nation (that awaits the salvation provided by the PAP).

The sense of national fragility is heightened through the staging of media spectres...

Media spectres which we are all too familiar with, and which puts LSL's SARS comment (I don't care if he later retracted it, it just showed how well-rehearsed that response was) in an interesting light.

Total Defence campaigns, that image of LKY sobbing, those terrible racial riots, the National Day songs (There was a time when troubles seemed too much for us to take...) and the strange divisiveness in our notion of multiculturalism. LHL said as much in his interview (transcript):

LEE HSIEN LOONG: Well, we’re happy to be a metaphor, but we remind
ourselves that we have no safety net and we can always fail if we get it

CHARLIE ROSE: And what would "get it wrong" be?

LEE HSIEN LOONG: If you don’t have the right government, if you have
the wrong policies, if you cause a loss of confidence. Supposing we were
in the situation of Iceland, of Greece --

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that.

LEE HSIEN LOONG: Where would we be? Iceland is a friend of the EU,
Greece is in the EU, so the Germans come riding to the rescue in some way.
But in Singapore, how are you ever come back?

CHARLIE ROSE: And who would come to the rescue of Singapore if you
had a huge debt problem?

LEE HSIEN LOONG: Exactly. We’d be just another broken-back country

CHARLIE ROSE: So you can’t afford to be -- have that kind of
financial crisis because you’re not sure --

LEE HSIEN LOONG: We can’t afford to have --

CHARLIE ROSE: The IMF is not going to be there for you.

LEE HSIEN LOONG: We can’t afford to have a disastrous bump in the
night, whether it’s a financial crisis, whether it’s government
misbehavior, whether it’s a security problem. But we only have one chance
to make a go of it. You can fail -- you can succeed in many battles. You
fail once, it’s finished.

In the beginning of this paper, Sim explains that Singapore has managed to avoid the transition to a liberal democracy even though the problems of late-capitalism exists which should rightly lead to a "flourishing of liberal discourses". How did we manage to avoid developing such "liberal inclinations" and demand of "political choices"? How did we manage to avoid ideological fragmentation?

To protect its one-party rule against threats of liberalisation and welfarism, the PAP labelled these tendencies as dangerous "Western" values, the antidote to which was the "Asianisation" of society, where communitarianism is promoted as an alternative to welfarism and plural/liberal democracy.

At this point, I realise I am basically just attempting to summarise the paper as a way of understanding it better. Ah well, in my defence, 'Asian Capitalism' was not on Cenite's reading list for political science.

Asian Capitalism, as Sim points out, is contradictory. The Asian Values component preaches harmony, the whole idea of community/nation before self, and self-reliance (ie meritocracy). It supports the one-party ideology by "emphasisng consensus over conflict" and de-legtimises ideological alternatives as "opposition for the sake of opposition" is deemed un-Asian.

Through Asian Values, capitalism and authoritarianism becomes mutually reinforcing: authorianism protects capitalism by enabling it to be un-compromised by welfarist demands, while capitalism success "protects" and provides economic legitimacy for authoritarian governments.

The contradiction comes when you realise that communitariansm is opposite to competitveness -- but it is this opposite nature that allows the former to be used to make this version of capitalism "more caring and the nation more cohesive"

By encouraging citizems to dream a dream that only the PAP can bring to fruition, authoritarianism is rendered tolerable, even necessary.

Ah that Singapore Dream. For those who will spend their lives chasing that Dream, it is bolstered by what Sim calls the "meritocratic myth" - that if you work hard enough, you can make it. For those who already have plenty, you raise the ceiling so that they never reach that stage where non-economic dreams become important or relevant.

At this point, I had to resort to Googling more about this meritocratic myth which, as usual, made me feel stupid - how is it I have never come across this before? We have a chapter to ourselves on Wiki's Meritocracy page!

The success of this myth is just one of the many examples of the PAP's ideological success. That we complain about the cost of healthcare and yet think of welfarist values as being unthinkable and inferior, that we are exasperated by how stifling the Singapore Dream can be and yet accept it to be the "normal path" of life etc...

The moral, economic and political legitimacy of the PAP is seemingly undefeatable.

CHARLIE ROSE: How do you measure your commitment to democracy?

LEE HSIEN LOONG: I think we measure it by the legitimacy of the
government and by the results, how Singapore works and whether Singaporeans
are able to have a better life.

I'm halfway through the paper and am already exhausted. It was enlightening to read about all these things when they are being discussed in a coherent manner.

Told ya it was a weird day.