Pride and Prejudice: Lack of Thinking in Society Produces Ignorance
First published on pubichouse.sg in April 2014
The current wave of racism and xenophobia continues to run strong in Singapore. Filipino Independence Day Council Singapore’s efforts to hold a large Philippines Independence Day event in the civic plaza of Ngee Ann City drew vile and nasty comments from people online, particularly on the facebook page ‘Say No to an Over Populated Singapore’. These comments are racist, ignorant and so hateful they are not worth repeating.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded by calling these commenters bigots, expressing his anger and disappointment at their reaction, and rightly so.
It’s obvious that the anti-foreigner resentment that holds sway in Singapore right now did not come out of a vacuum. Much has already been said about the pressures Singaporeans have been facing—rising cost of living, less social mobility, overcrowding, depressed wages—that have been exacerbated or directly caused by the government’s overly zealous drive to increase our population suddenly by throwing our doors open to one and all, before making sure we had enough trains or hospital beds.
But beyond current circumstances, I think the root of the xenophobia polluting society lies much deeper. It has also grown out of decades of gung ho nationalism, propaganda and indoctrination—coupled with the thumbing down of critical thinking, resulting in a significant portion of the population who just have no idea how to be cogent and have about as much awareness as a doorpost.
This starts young, and carries through all levels of society. Walk into a school, where it all begins and you see national values and national education
Foreign organizations who have been deemed interfering with local politics have been severely curtailed or sued, like the Far Eastern Economic Review and Asian Wall Street Journal—even though one could easily make the case that the articles and letters in question that led to these publications being punished, while certainly scathing were not really ‘interfering’ in any way.
There is value in feeling like you belong, knowing your roots and having a Singaporean identity—which was no doubt the intention behind all this—but when it is not backed up with clear, rationale and critical thinking, this becomes indoctrination not education.
Some have the intellect and exposure to rise above this, but for an alarming number of people, the brainwashing works. It sinks in at a subliminal level, it becomes part of a collective psyche, a worldview so deeply embedded that some don’t even realize it’s there. It feels natural to look at things this way.
Nowhere are people encouraged to stop, think, ask—what are we doing? What is this about? How are we constructing all this? What is the good and what is the bad in this? What are we gaining and what are we losing?
Instead, the mantra is repeated—Singapore is no. 1, no one can question Our Way, that the way to deal with foreigners who make us unhappy is to silence them—when really we should be looking critically the government policies and strategies that created all this in the first place.
A couple of generations of this has produced way too many ill-formed minds, shallow thinking, blinkered views, insular perspectives, and sheer ignorance. In the same vein, we have also bred jingoism that is messing up society and leading Singaporeans to call other nationalities dogs and vermin.
This is what happens when you develop pride without reason.
messages emblazoned on walls and written into school communications. National education messages include ‘we must defend Singapore ourselves’, ‘no one owes Singapore a living’ and ‘Singapore is our homeland … we take pride in shaping our unique way of life’.
One of our ‘Singapore values’ is ‘nation before community and society before self.’ These messages and values also speak of the need to maintain racial and religious harmony, but the sense is that people have in mind Singapore’s four main ethnic groups, although these principles should of course apply to all.
At the same time, our exam-heavy system trains our young minds how to score but not to think, debate or create.
School history books basically tell one version of our history—the Singapore success story—played out by a cast of PAP heroes and the villians that opposed them. There is little or no acknowledgement, let alone discussion, that there are other perspectives of our history, other narratives, or that the shiny success story has many cracks in it; in fact these are sometimes viewed as threats to the ‘official’ history and hushed over, relegated to obscurity.
Every year patriotic National Day songs are widely broadcasted in mainstream media—‘One People, One Nation, One Singapore’, ‘Stand Up for Singapore’, ‘Home’—and kids taught to sing them in school. While these sing-a-long tunes are pleasant and have a warmth about them, and touch on things close to our hearts, the openly propagandish feel about them can also make one cringe.
Mainstream media as we know is also a tool nation building tool here, and has for decades crafted stories that make Singapore look good or reflect national values, meant to instill national pride and a sense of belonging—while neglecting to tackle issues that cross the so-called elusive OB Markers, however pertinent or true those issues might be.