Who is Anti-Singapore and Who is Mad? (From one angry bird to another)

I must confess, I’ve never been a fan of iphones and computer games. I thought indulging in a thousand applications of the virtual world is just a complete waste of time, people should try to connect with the natural world or the social reality around them instead.

But a few days back, I learnt of a free iphone application created by Nature Society (Singapore) called Birds of Singapore, featuring more than 500 stunning photographs of birds species; and there is a non-fiction 3D game called World of Temasek, born of a cooperation between professional game developers and heritage experts here including archaeologist John Miksic. And I suddenly realised, what a lack of imagination I had, you never know what technology can be used for!

Well Singapore needs some happy news, so there you have some. Must try to stay positive!

Maybe it is indeed time to consider the old Chinese wisdom, that there is always a seed of black in what is white, and a seed of white in what is black. The world is more complicated than just a constant struggle of good versus evil, of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. One must not always fear anything that is unfamiliar. The enemy may also be within oneself.

Unfortunately we are not all trained to think that way. We don’t usually like to talk to people who are different from us. Maybe we are not yet a gracious society, where people would care to consider a different perspective. In our country, drivers are used to respecting the traffic lights and the speed cameras, rather than the pedestrians on the road. The government regulates everything, so all you have to make sure is that you are not on the wrong side of the law. If something goes wrong and it’s not our fault, we lodge complaints. We believe in answering to the government, not talking to one another – except to throw some insults from a distance.

A local blogger with the pseudonym ‘Jentrified Citizen’ wrote an article a few days back entitled ‘Speaking Up is Not Anti-Singapore’, arguing that it is wrong for the more conservative Singaporeans to label people who speak up and question government policies and PAP as being “anti-establishment”, “anti-government” or “anti-Singapore”.

In the comments, someone responded that it is also wrong to mock the 60% who voted PAP in the GE as being “gullible”.

Should one conclude then, that everybody should avoid name-calling altogether as a rule, in order to be ‘fair’? I think that may be missing the point. Of course, we should bear in mind that people representing the 60% are not therefore PAP ‘cronies’, they may also be moderates who are voting for stability, or people who truly believe an ‘inclusive’ economic model would take time. But does that mean we also have to ban all websites where PRCs or ‘foreign talents’ are always targeted?

What it just means, for some healthy dialogue in our country, is that we should all try to listen to arguments from other Singaporeans on any public issue without prejudice. We must not fall into a trap of obsessing so much with ‘rules of engagement’ that it in turn becomes another way to point fingers and shut up anyone who uses emotional words in a debate. Sure, a comic like Demoncratic may seem quite compulsive in its style of sarcasm, but you can let readers themselves get tired of it automatically (I thought the one on rejection of SDP’s healthcare plan is quite funny though).

Why would anybody ever have to shout in an angry voice in the first place? There can be one simple explanation: you do it when people who are supposed to listen to your message just do not seem to be listening.

I think one oldest trick in the book for any regime resisting change is to label people who are more progressive as being anti-establishment or even mad. It’s hence not surprising that we have a tabloid newspaper describing an opposition party member as a ‘loose cannon’, or a mainstream newspaper labelling activists as ‘naysayers’, just as we would read about some nymphomaniac blogger being sent to IMH.

Given such an oppressive environment, it is not surprising too that we the people ourselves may use the same tactic in shutting up fellow citizens who have a different opinion or a different approach in dealing with issues. We label others as mad, because we are convinced that we hold the truth and nobody else, or we label others as troublemakers, because we insist we are the only ones with the wisdom and the good intention. Now that’s a real concern, if we want to be a more open society.

Maybe we are all programmed by a fast-paced consumerist society to react this way: when you see something, you either buy it, or you don’t buy it; it either belongs to you totally, or you must reject it altogether. Maybe it’s even like a computer game: when you spot an object, it’s either for you to collect as your own gadgets, or it’s some form of threat that must be shot down immediately.

It is of course not always easy to reconcile different positions on the same issue. Sometimes the other party may need time to come to see things from a different perspective. We can also give ourselves some distance, to reserve judgment. Maybe we all see problems from different angles and we may in fact all be trying to help in our own little ways.

What is ‘madness’ by the way? In medieval Europe, it was not simply regarded as a mental condition, but rather a challenge to standards of normality, for madmen might also provide insights that the usual reasoning in society does not provide. When somebody seems to be going on with some mad ranting, do we need to take everything so literally and be angry in turn? We can try to understand what’s behind the anger instead.

In a public forum, when somebody is taking too much time talking about his or her own concern, we may have to tell the person not to go off-topic, for others need a chance to speak too. But when some website appears to be excessive, we can either switch channel or if we are really so concerned with the topic, then write a comment to express a more moderate view. Focus on the issue. Is there a need to keep branding one another with even more labels? Maybe we are all ‘angry birds’ anyway?

But some of us who are considered ‘mad’ as in ‘anti-establishment’ may like to learn one trick. We can’t maintain the same tone and loudness all the time, or it will just become background noise. We also need to stand down in our display of anger now and then or improvise a little, so that people who are moderate would know the difference when it is really red alert. And you never know when that might strike; it has been ‘yellow alert’ most of the time here.

(Or is it way past red already? Maybe we need to invent more colour codes to communicate with fellowmen?)



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