Why Singaporeans are so apathetic

11 May 2005

First and foremost, why are people interested in politics? That is because politics decides the directions and quality of the lives of these people. Given the culture of Singapore which is very materialistic, when the people are generally not materially wanting, there is lesser interest in politics among the general populace. Thus it is easy for authoritarian system to exist. So the problem with apathy now is not with the dictatorship, it is with the culture of the people.

Why are our people so lacking of righteousness, especially among the younger generation? Our people are all only interested in the paper chase, in securing a material future, and that is actually quite understandable. The cost of living in Singapore is so high and comparatively the wages are so low, even if one is university-educated. The people do not want to live in small and uncomfortable accommodation, and to live otherwise would cost a bomb, considering the price of housing, even ‘government-subsidised’ ones.

Also, who really wants to live in a poor or rough neighbourhood? The last thing one wants to encounter after a tiring day at work is rubbish over the place, its smell wafting through the whole void deck, urine-stained floors, and hostile neighbours who do not hesitate in picking a squabble. Also, who can really endure the thin walls that allow one to hear the karaoke next door or someone arguing on the next floor?

And it is not even because Singapore lacks space and that is why we can only allow small housing, it is because of the inefficient land use right now that greatly favours the wealthy so the government can earn money, and also because around 40% of Singapore’s land is used for the military. Yes, 40%. Very potent indeed, but in the event of a real war, I doubt Singapore can survive anyway. In the hypothetical event that Malaysia and Singapore become the current China and Taiwan, and war really breaks out, there will be no redemption. What our military can do is only to ensure that all the blood that can be shed will be shed, regardless of the outcome. Diplomacy is always much more convenient, cost-effective and lasting than the threat of coercion. Even if not, the idea of war is immoral and should not be referred to.

Singapore’s culture exalts only the ‘best’, the top of the echelon, the white collars among the people, and encourages others to be like them. Those in other professions, the service providers or the blue collars, are shunted aside and are thus labelled “the average”. The people forget the importance, achievements and dignity of these men, and their wage levels represent as such. I am just wondering, how long can this situation persist? It is a sore thumb and definitely unsustainable. In the government advertisements that appear to extol the services of the blue collars, the ads seem to portray them as ‘happy slaves’.

If society really wants to show their appreciation, then it should not be talk but action, and one can start by increasing their wages, so that their professions can truly be recognised. In Canada where I am staying now, a garbage collector after working for 2 years will on average bring home a paycheck of C$3,600/mth, about 50% more than a clerk. This is how to show appreciation and increase the status of such professions, not to mention that the workers will feel more motivated and thus be more productive.

From young, we have been taught and shown this culture of dog-eat-dog and the strongest survive. It is very rare that in the family nowadays, values of morality or righteousness are being preached. Anything not stoutly practical or profitable are considered useless. The level of humanity is so abject. Fortunately, due to the exposure of international media and mindsets through the internet, many of our youth understand various cultures and types of thinking, so in a sense we are not entirely closed off from the world.

However, the last straw comes when men have to undergo NS. It is truly the most brainwashing exercise ever possibly conceived by man, and those who have successfully gone through it will not easily realise they have been brainwashed. Not brainwashing in the sense of ‘duty to the country’, which most people already consciously do not think so, but in the sense of blind obedience and unwillingness to address an issue, but just enduring it. It will become an expectation and norm of the people after 2.5 years of such character-bashing, and that is the ultimate conditioning for apathy. It is not the conscript’s fault that he does not have the courage nor understanding of how to tackle the issue, for he is just only 18 and has only finished schooling, without any experience of the world, and with still so much of a future ahead of him. It is too terrible and unimaginable a price to pay. For those who are currently imprisoned for standing up to the system, I commend you all, for you are truly the bravest of them all, as brave as the men who have suffered punishment for confronting the government. If this system is not changed, this problem and culture will keep perpetuating itself, and may even grow stronger in the future, for it is a self-sustaining one.

The conclusion is the poor culture that is running through all our veins, and if we do not see the error of the system and of our ways, then we will have no hope.


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