Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Ho Kwon Ping (es-ISD detainee) spoke at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)-Nathan lecture series on Monday (20 Oct). His speech was more than about the PAP’s continuing hegemony and its probable decline. Not that you’d notice if you only read the reports and commentary in constructive, nation-building media and the new media.
The focus was on what he said were
— the challenges of PAP remaining in power, maintaining its one-party dominance and denying the opposition its self-described role as a “co-driver” of the nation, but to do so in a manner which ensures that the party “truly renews itself and retains its original vitality, vibrancy and vigour”.
“If history is anything to go by, this last task will be daunting.”
— And that it’s a matter of time PAP would lose an election. (”Is Ho Kwon Ping saying all that much? 15 years from now means 2029/30. That’s at least three general elections away!” was posted on facebook by a friend.)
Ah yah, even my dogs can tell you these things.
Seriously, and sadly, the most impt insight of the speech was played down. Why I do not know.
Back to the future: 1950s and early 1960s revisited
In his conversations with young Singaporeans, he said, almost everyone was critical of one issue or another, and to varying degrees, he says.
“But what impressed me was the overwhelming sense of what sociologists call self-agency – the simple notion that I can change things; that I am in control of my life and my future.”
“This kind of political DIY, or Do-It-Yourself, attitude has in the past decade encouraged a participatory democracy which resembles Singapore’s early years, but which then surrendered to decades of developmental authoritarianism.”
He gave the example of the public response to Gay Penguins incident, “The fact that some bureaucrat banned some children’s books as pro-gay and anti-family is not unexpected, and not dissimilar in logic to the banning of chewing gum decades earlier. But 20 years ago, such bureaucratic actions – not necessarily about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues but over anything, such as fines for this or that offence, or banning shoulder-length hair for men – would have been met only with grudging acquiescence.”
“But as a sign of the times, including the power of social media, the response this time was some 400 young parents decamping to the National Library* to read the banned and to-be-pulped books to their children. It was not a strident political demonstration and more like a children’s outing. But the point was clear.”
This is his original insight: we are returning to the social activism of the 1950s. Diverse views were slugging it amid great inequality: out: with strikes, rallies, riots, boycotts being par for the course.
So don’t be too surprised if Roy and New Citizen FT H3 when doing their encore after disrupting the YMCA’s event, throw acid at innocent people’s faces; this happened in the 50s. Doubtless, they will say that their victims provoked them. And M Ravi will claim that Roy and H3 have the constitutional right to throw acid at innocent people. (Btw, the good life that activists lead: drinking champagne.)
Seriously, why does Ho Kwon Ping see a return to the 1950s and early 1960s? He cites the following reasons:
New media erodes Govt’s ability to shape or frame public thinking
He pointed out that the ability of governments to control information will continue to erode, despite sometimes frantic and illogical attempts to stem it: “Because knowledge is power, and the ability to control access to information is the key to power, governments instinctively want to be the gatekeepers. But, increasingly, social media and its incredible variety of means for people to connect even across a heavily censored Internet system is undermining the Government’s ability to shape how people think.
‘Anything censored is still widely available in alternative media, and therein lies the rub: At what point will control and censorship of the mainstream news, cultural and entertainment media become counter-productive by not really achieving the purpose of blocking access to information, but, instead, end up alienating the social activists who, despite their small size, are influencers beyond their numbers?”
The centre cannot hold
Mr Ho said it will be increasingly difficult to hold the political centre together in the midst of polarising extremes – liberals versus conservatives; local versus foreign; pro-life versus pro-abortion; gay versus straight, and so forth.“While fault lines along race and religion have been contained and have still not cracked, the so-called culture wars are intensifying.”
Another trend is the diminution in the stature of political leadership which will encourage the rise of so-called “non-constructive” politics.
“Future leaders simply cannot command the sufficient respect and moral authority to decree what is acceptable and unacceptable criticisms. To have the authority to simply deride wide swathes of criticisms as simply non-constructive is wishful thinking.”
Bling is the fashion
“In recent years, the ostentatious pursuit of wealth rivalling Hong Kong standards has become fashionable. Extolling our casinos, Formula 1 Grand Prix and highest per capita number of billionaires and Lamborghinis in the world, as evidence that Singapore has now become a world-class city, could perhaps be dismissed as the crassness of the rich, except that this ethos of the elite is occurring just when income inequality has become the worst since independence,” Mr Ho said.
“The gulf between rich and poor Singaporeans, not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of values, is probably more than ever before, and is continuing to widen. Even the gap between old money and its sense of responsible philanthropy, and the nouveau riche’s penchant for affectation and bling, is widening.”
Becoming normal human beings, not comrades on a mission
Lastly, the absence of a galvanizing national mission and a sense of dogged exceptionalism as the little red dot that refuses to be smudged out, will lead increasingly to a sense of anomie – which has been defined as “personal unrest, alienation and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals”, he said.
“It is the disease of affluence which affects individual people as well as societies. We have arrived, only to find ourselves lost again.”
The moral of all this: new media can be as bad as our constructive, nation-building media. New media people too have their agendas, prejudices. They too can be stupid.
Take nothing on trust.
Related posts on life in the early 60s
https://atans1.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/were-the-coldstore-detainees-communists-progressives-or-leftists/ The book reviewed here has gd stuff on the 50s and 60s even if it was published by a stat board. Juz goes to show …
*There seems to be a conspiracy of silence among the govt, constructive nation-building media, social activists, and tua kee bloggers and other cyber warriors on this gathering. As far as I’ve been able to make out, no permission was sought or given to conduct the read-in, making it an illegal assembly. So why no arrests? Why no gloating by activists that the police didn’t dare arrest anyone, let alone investigate?