2 February 2005
I refer to the letter by Mr Chong Jian Bing. I believe that the average Singaporean walks, works and speaks, but without a mind of their own or the freedom from fear to really express what is in his mind. Wherever you are, if you live in an oppressive environment which places sanctions on your freedom of expression and thought by threatening your freedom of movement or demonising your image by influencing your peers’ minds using the press that is NOT free, one WILL be stifled, no matter how sympathetic you are to whatever cause that may be in line with the oppressor’s policy.
Just take for example the idea of NS. Is there any alternative for NS? Do we have concessions for people who are objectors to the idea? No we do not, we do not have a conscientious objector’s class, the only way to oppose the policy of NS is by undergoing Detention Barracks (DB) for insubordination, which may last for an indefinite period of time until the detainee finally changes his opinion or the state just gives up the effort. The other way would be by declaring depression, which is quite underhanded I feel, but which repairs a little freedom (in thought and movement).
In such an environment of powerplay and fear, an environment where your freedom is at stake for your beliefs, it is impossible not to feel stifled. In the civilian world, the military police will be replaced by the ISD and the police, and the much feared press.
A press that specialises in marginalisation and bias has incredibly effective effects on destroying one’s thoughts, especially in such a tight society where there is a fellow human being that is capable of being influenced and exerting peer pressure every 10 metres around you. How can we have freedom of thought and from fear in such a manner?
Yes, there are those like CSJ and JBJ that fight the oppression, but they are the few ones who are still capable of freedom of thought. It is not everyday you find someone daring to risk being bankrupted or arrested just for speaking his opinions. How CAN WE NOT BE STIFLED IN SUCH AN ENVIRONMENT? Please forgive my use of caps in the previous paragraph, I am just too excited and I think it reduces the clinical quality of my letter, but I really just cannot be bothered now.
But I’ll refrain from shedding tears, this is hardly the separation from Malaysia. I will like to contest the fact that our elections are democratic. If it is indeed democratic, we should have an independent elections committee. But this topic is not about democracy it is about stifling of the mind. I can go on about democracy in Singapore. How can we have a free mind, an open society which has access to unbiased and comprehensive understanding of events and ideas all around the world if we do not have a free press? If we have a press which persist in marginalisation? Of course we are all Singaporeans, so why do we deserve the marginalisation? Why? Where are the rights of the minorities (minorities here mean those with differing opinions)? Do those who believe in another direction deserve condemnation and ridicule? When will have a press that is clinical and keeps its commentaries strictly to the last page? We need news, not opinions, or we might as well call a newspaper an opinion-paper.
It doesn’t matter what one does. He can very well be a minister or a clerk, whether they commit their efforts to the civil service is their choice. Someone who commits to the civil service cannot be construed as good, and someone who seems not to have direct affiliations with the civil service cannot be construed as not-so-good or even bad. Everyone has a part to play and that part is to live their life out in a way that promotes one another and not provoke, to improve the quality of physical and mental life of themselves and not to impose on one another.
No entity is above another, and if the state believes that its interests is greater than that of the individual’s, than that state is a grave sham, for a state is just a representation of the ruling power and the existence and morality of the ruling power can be questioned. All these thus have no relation to stifling of the mind and it is wrong for Mr Chong to say that they are not stifled in thinking.
Stifling is caused by fear and intimidation, not what one believes in. With regards to the US, I do not think that the US is a perfect model nor is it moving in a very correct and moral direction. But I believe that their democracy is very credible. The very fact that someone like Bush can get elected already showcases how democratic it is. Democracy is the concept of popular vote, not giving power to the ‘right’ person. If 51% felt Bush is good for them, so be it. As long as he does not marginalise the 49% of the nation nor infringe upon their rights and freedom, so be it.
I am not too interested in discussing their welfare state or war as it does not relate here, though they warrant a discussion. In Singapore one may feel that we do have the popular persons or party in place, but that is because we are under oppression of the mind and we cannot think freely. We do not even have a free press and the state indulges in mud-slinging and marginalisation. What kind of a democracy is ours?
Lastly, I do not think that we are superior or inferior to others at all. That is absolute. Any detractions to that are false and is discriminatory. I do not think though that there were any loose generalizations on the society here. Maybe Mr Nair had failed to elaborate on what he meant by stifling of the mind, but I surely hope that my explanation on why this environment is stifling can waken some people up from their chained reality, even though that does not mean they are now unchained. Maybe the generalisations appeared unjustified before, but I hope it is justified now.