Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why do people hate people who defend Singapore?

And by "people" I mean "Singaporeans". 

And by "Singaporeans", I mean small-minded, pretentious, ideologues full of their own sense of superiority who happened to be Singapore Citizens.

First, let's hear what Theodore has to say. Then note his parting note at the end.

But before I forget, thank you Mr Shawcross for your sharing. I agree with you, Singapore is an amazing country. Not perfect, but it has got most of the things right. 

And the things that are "wrong" about Singapore, most of them are "First World Problems". 

Like not being able to get Pokemon Go!

Why do People hate Singapore?

(From Quora)

Theodore Shawcross, 
Racism is just another word for inferiority complex

I’ve read all the answers here and I’d just like to give my opinion on this, as a “foreign talent” as an “angmoh” and as someone who grew up in England, eventually moved to the US for my PhD, and then chose to raise my family in Singapore.

As a person who grew up in the west, there’s nothing that gives more credence to the phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” than when a caucasian chooses to move to a predominantly asian country. It gives me great pride to say that I could somehow travel 10 years back in time to that moment I made this decision to move to Singapore with my wife and 5 month old boy, I will choose Singapore again in a heartbeat.

Singapore is an amazing country. That sentence is perhaps more of an understatement than any of the understatements in history, because although many Singaporeans like to rant about its imperfections, Singapore is the closest you can get to a near perfectly run country. I’m saying this objectively, because amid all the freedom, the welfare, the “quality of life” that Singaporeans seem to admire about Scandinavian countries, or for some odd reason, the US and the UK, I sincerely doubt that any person with the desire to be in a competitive, fast-paced, ultra modern, yet clean, safe and economically solvent country would have any other options other than Singapore. Singapore has lived up to all my expectations of enabling my children to receive a world leading education, to grow up in a country bereft of violence, misconduct and disorder, and enabling me to work alongside one of the most highly educated and skilled pool of talent that happens to speak in my native tongue, to enable my wife and I to mingle with people from all around the world in a tight knit environment, to live in an essentially equal country without overt racism because to be Singaporean is to accept that anyone can be Singaporean, regardless or race and religion, now that’s priceless. The US has always claimed to be an inclusive country where people of different walks of life can live freely and ironically “safely”, it might be a surprise to some folks because they never really found out how to get that done.

Racial Equality This country has its flaws, but I’m an economist, therefore I know firsthand that whatever you choose, there is always going to be something you give up. Freedom of speech is something that has become very controversial in recent Singaporean history given the persecution that Amos Yee had to face by posting a seemingly “harmless” video. It has become a theme now that young Singaporeans are becoming increasingly enchanted with Western ideas of freedom and yet they’ve not actually lived in those countries long enough to get an idea of what that sort of freedom is about. Singapore is undoubtedly multiracial, and to maintain this heterogeneity comes at a huge price, it’s a price that the founders of this country felt it was worth paying, and it did pay off. I come from a country riddled with hate crime. Although I’ve never really experienced it firsthand on the tube or on buses, but everyone in England will always have that friend with a story to tell about racial conflict in public places. I’ve also lived for more than half a decade in the US, essentially a country still deeply ensconced in racial tensions, especially in southern states. Singapore is a country that has essentially solved that problem.

Cost of Living I understand through volunteer work and community service in Singapore that there are people choking under the increased stress that Singapore is becoming too expensive for the poor. I don’t like to diss this as a problem we cannot solve, but I would say that it is a very difficult problem to solve. Singapore is an entrepôt nation, add that to the fact that it is one of the most densely populated modern metropolises in the world. Being born in this country has its disadvantages if you weren’t born into a well-to-do family, I get that. To keep any economy stable, solvent, and growing, there will be positive selection from other countries, it’s inevitable. The rich, the highly qualified, the highly skilled will always find a reason to get their asses to this island. I’m a living breathing example of that. People will always move to the place, the job, the field or the country they feel they can be most productive in, it’s just economics. Now the only way the government can solve this problem, is to increase spending in welfare, how? Well the only way is to increase taxes isn’t it? But wait, isn’t the only thing keeping Singapore such an attractive location for startup businesses and highly skilled professionals is the relatively low taxes? Singapore is too small a country to be dilly-dallying, that I can assure you. It needs to stay competitive, it needs to keep growing, otherwise it wouldn’t last long, and I do mean, the country will crumble if its economy falters.

There are many things keeping this country economically strong, many components, many attributes, I believe the current government understands that and it’s difficult to compromise those components to improve the cost of living. The cost of living of any metropolitan city is bound to be high, Google the rent on flats in New York, or London, or Tokyo, or Sydney, and I’ll find something to keep your jaws from dropping. With the exception of Tokyo and maybe Sydney, most of the capital cities in the world are filthy, dangerous, crime-infested and their public transport systems are failing ALL THE TIME. And I do mean “all the time”, not the once a month kind of deal that we have to deal with SMRT. I will not in a million years expect Singapore to be any less expensive to live in than any of these cities, and yet it holds up pretty well. Singapore can be affordable, which is one of the great triumphs of the Singaporean government, which is to make relatively high quality public housing available and provide financial aids to afford them. It’s impossible to go out for a proper meal in London without having to spend more than 50 SGD on your meal, whereas I can take a train to any shopping mall with a food court and spend less than 10 SGD on a full meal, sitting in clean seats and an air-conditioned environment.

Singapore has a lot to give, and I can imagine being in the shoes of the government, because the people never seem to be satisfied with what they have. It’s a really tough job.

Cost of Cars Something that’s linked quite closely to the Singaporean notion of “quality of life” is car ownership. Yes cars are bloody expensive in Singapore, more expensive than any other country perhaps. The government seeks to solve this problem through making public transport a viable option, by constantly expanding their coverage and making it very affordable. Barring the relatively infrequent breakdowns. In America car ownership would be something of a necessity, because it is virtually impossible to travel without having a car. I drove an hour from where I lived to the Stanford campus every day for 5 years. However, you can only imagine the traffic congestion I have to deal with on the I-80 every day. Making cars affordable in Singapore is just going to make the roads more congested, at which point it’s not going to make sense to own a car anymore.

Freedom of Expression I believe I touched a little on this topic, so now I’m going to clarify that freedom of expression has never meant freedom to say anything you want without consequences. You may think there is freedom in just about any modern developed country so why can’t Singapore have it, but you have to also take in account the laws that these countries have against racism such as the Crime and Disorder Act in Britain. There is absolutely no country in which you can just say anything to incite violence, disorder, or possibly terrorism without being persecuted. The US is a very unique situation wherein everyone can practically say anything they want without being held for trial, but that doesn’t mean you can defame anyone you like without being sued.

Yes, the US probably has the freedom of expression that most young, naive Singaporeans are asking for, but look at the state of the country, and look how they were able to regulate racism. I really wonder if that is what Singaporeans want, the freedom to go on any MRT train and call an Indian or a Malay person out based on the colour of their skin. This toxic right belittles the very equality that the founding fathers of this country fought for. I thought Singapore left Malaysia because they weren’t able to promise the sort of racial equality that Lee Kuan Yew had asked for. People may argue that this wouldn’t happen, and that education is the only solution to racial tolerance, but how many people in Singapore are actually educated to the level that would make them impervious to racial hate? The last I checked, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke is a university graduate. Humans cannot realistically be given the ability to run their mouths in hopes that education can be an effective restrictor, because it is obviously not. Only the law can protect the rights of the people from being offended, racially or religiously. The question on whether the right of being protected from emotional harm or the right to be able to express our ideas freely has an obvious answer. People want to be able to say what they want, but they aren’t willing to bear the consequences that being emotionally fragile human beings, violence is just one step away from offensive remarks with racial or religious undertones. This brings us to the question of “is prevention better than cure”. Do we want to let loose the darkest sides of our psyches in hopes that Singapore will continue to be an inclusive society?

I’m not going to sugarcoat the bad things about Singapore, because there are some pretty strict laws that must be changed, like laws against homosexuality, which I think will, in time, be abolished. But people need to understand one thing, if you want to demand the government to do something about your problems, please make sure you’ve done enough academic research about whether or not your problems are essential problems, or are they problems that are just characteristic of a modern metropolitan city, for if they are, there’s really no solution to many of those problems. No country has been able to keep housing affordable in their capital city relatively to their suburban or rural areas. Singapore has no suburban areas, the closest thing we have to a countryside is Malaysia, where houses are by the Singaporean definition, affordable and cheap. As I have said about freedom of expression, there’s a huge price we have to pay for it. Not everyone is educated, not everyone is inherently tolerant. If we allow that to happen, may I refer you to the countless of videos on UK, US and Aussie racism that happened regardless of the laws imposed against racial remarks in the UK and Australia. If Singapore starts to lax its laws against freedom of expression then the fundamentals of what made this country great will crumble.

So why do people hate Singapore you ask? Well my only answer is blame Hollywood, and blame ignorance. Young people are a pain in the ass, we’ve all been through that phase. They just need to grow up and realise that you cannot always get what you want, you should not always get what you want.

Singapore is in good hands, and I’m proud to stay on, contribute to the economy, create jobs for Singaporeans, do community and volunteer work, all in the name of preserving my choice to come live here.

Majulah Singapura.


I’ve received a lot of abuse on the internet these past few days, so I felt that I had to clarify that I do not claim to know all about Singapore, or any at all, everything I said here are based on my observations living in the country. I’m very new to this whole internet thing so I’m starting to get the sense that it isn’t quite that hospitable, I probably should go back to commenting on Brexit and UK questions on here. It has never been my intention to overlook any of the problems that I didn’t bring up, or introduce sweeping solutions of how freedom of speech is mutually exclusive to racial harmony. I based my responses on my experiences in the US and UK, so it’s not mental to come to the conclusion that you have to have some level of control otherwise they can be no harmony. It’s nice to have so many people show their appreciation for my answer, but this whole questioning of my identity malarkey is getting out of hand, I do not work for the PAP, nor can I vote in elections, I’m sure if I was writing this as propaganda, there would be much more I should’ve said. Have nice life everyone.

I am sorry for the abuse you have suffered. It is unfortunately, a "thing".

Not a good thing, but a "thing", nonetheless.

Why do people hate people who say good things about Singapore? 

There are several possible reasons.

Intolerance is one reason.  

Some of the most strident critics of Singapore are the idealistic, pretentious, small-minded dilettantes who may have experienced a personal epiphany. You know the ones - they go to university (usually overseas), did one semester of philosophy, read Plato's "Republic" and eureka! Discovers that Singapore seems to be the archetype of Plato's "Republic". Or a passable facsimile. 

Or maybe they read Machiavelli's "The Prince" and reviews Singapore's history through the lens of "The Prince".

Or they may have read Hobbes, or Descartes (Or should I have put Descartes before the Hobbes?) or any other writers and philosophers, and had their minds "opened" to the insufferable conditions in Singapore. 

So, having achieved Enlightenment and seeing the "Truth" about Singapore, it is obvious to them that anyone who does not see things as they do, who sing the praises of Singapore, are obviously unenlightened plebes deluded by official propaganda.

Which is a credible position if the "deluded plebe" is a born and raised Singaporean who never left the country and never had the opportunities of the "enlightened" ones.

However, it is not so credible when someone like Shawcross who comes from a western country with a "more developed" democracy, and human rights, and freedom of expression, and probably has experienced "true"  democracy and "real" freedom of speech, and contends that Singapore is actually better than the dysfunctional democracies of the west, and has nothing to apologise for. 

The ad hominim argument used against the "local plebe" fails against the cosmopolitan expatriate.

Or simply requires a different tack.

So the Foreign Talent is critiqued as being not clued in as to the locals challenge, being privileged and unaware of the struggles of the Singaporean poor, he doesn't stay in a HDB flat, he doesn't struggle with low wages, he doesn't have the obligations of reservist, or the burden of CPF contributions, and... and... and... he grew up chewing gum!

The thing is, there are enough ang mos who criticise Singapore. And the worse criticisms are often from those who have never even visited Singapore. Not all of course, there are some, like William Gibson who did visit Singapore in 1993. But his mind was already made up (as you can see from his article). 

So there are Western foreigners or foreigners from well established democracies, who do not like Singapore. I don't blame them, and I don't think their opinions are invalid. Of course, to the "enlightened ideologues/idealists", these opinions validate theirs, lending credence to their views and opinions. Evidence of the "Truth", as they know it.

Silly babies. As if The Truth is a popularity contest, to be determined democratically.

Conversely, there are also foreigners who visit and even live and work in Singapore and they also have an opinion of Singapore. Of course those who are unhappy with Singapore, won't stay for long and will leave after a short while. They are after all foreigners, and are free to vote with their feet.

This also means that for a vast majority of the foreigners living and working here, they have found Singapore, not only tolerable, livable, and acceptable, but may even decide that it is, to use Shawcross word, "amazing". 

These are the ones the democracy ideologues cannot accept. 

Which brings me to the second (and related) reason for why people hate people who praise or defend Singapore: 

Ideology and Ideologues. Intolerant Ideologues.

Their opinion and "defence" of Singapore and the Singapore model flies in the face of their beliefs and conviction that Singapore is a terrible place ruled by authoritarians with no civil liberties.

Because, although these "democracy ideologues" subscribe to democratic ideals, in practice, they are intolerant of opposing views, and are so insecure, that they cannot accept as valid the considered opinions of others, and would constraint the freedom of others to express views contrary to theirs if they could.

Just as the Bremainders could not accept that Brexiters really wanted to vote the way they had voted.

Just as the enlightened ones, could not believe 70% of Singaporeans voted for PAP in 2015, and had to rationalise the outcome as SG voters being foolish or selfish or brainwashed.

There is a tendency to paint Trump supporters, Brexiters, Duterte supporters, and even PAP supporters as stupid, short-sighted, selfish, and uneducated. 

But in a democracy (and yes, SG is still a democracy), the vote of the most high-minded, and the vote of the most pedestrian, and even the vote of the delusional are all equal. 

That's the nature (and weakness?) of democracy.

SG had our mini-"Brexit" in GE2011, when people sent a signal to the PAP (just as the UK voters sent a signal to their politicians via the Brexit vote). The good thing was the signal was clear, the PAP lost one GRC, but remain in power to fix the problems the people were signalling about. 

They took the next 4 years to fix the problems and in GE2015, they were vindicated. 

Or that was the "mini-Brexit", depending on your ideological slant. 

Let me be clear: I completely understand that the UK is best served by remaining in the EU. I think it is foolish to vote for Brexit. I believe the experts when they say that Brexit will be painful for the UK. But I also understand and accept that there are UK voters who were so disillusioned, disenfranchised (or felt disenfranchised) that they felt (incorrectly perhaps) that their only option was to vote for Brexit. 

It does not mean that they voted wisely, but it does not mean that their grievances were invalid, or unreasonable, or illusory, or unimportant. 

But the sad thing is, that is the nature of democracy.

At least democracy and government in those bastions of western democracy.

Singapore has gone another route. We focused on the need for good, efficient, responsible government, instead of the misguided quest for the trappings of democracy which provided no guarantee of good government. Merely the delusion that democracy leads to good government.
Anyway, if you are reading this, Shawcross, I just want to say, thank you, and we need people to defend Singapore (verbally, logically, rationally) against the ideologues. Why?
From the last comment on this post:

But there are very few places where you can be reasonably civilised and have sufficient security and responsible freedom to have a good life. 
Singapore is one such Oasis of sensibleness. 
LKY set out to create an Oasis of order in a chaotic region. I think he more than succeeded. I think we are an Oasis of order, competence, efficiency, and reasonableness in an otherwise chaotic unreasonable, incompetent WORLD. Not just the region. 
If Singapore becomes a copy of a Western Democracy with all the inherent inefficiencies, silliness, drama, and chaos, it would be a very sad thing - for me anyway.
If Singapore breaks down and devolves into a corrupt, ineffective, unfocused, shambling chaotic third world country, it would also be a very sad thing. 
There is only one place where you can find Singapore's straightforwardness, integrity, efficiency, competence, order... And that is here, in Singapore.
If we lose this, whether because we lean to much to the left, or whether we let ourselves sink into mediocrity through complacency or a sense of destiny, or divine right, it will be gone. 
And so that is why we resist the ideologues.
I hope Singapore continues to amaze you with our boring certainty, reliability, safety and security. I believe that Singapore is the best place to raise a child. It is a pretty good place to live. And I will retire here (not much choice, but then few people have a choice about where they spend their retirement.)

Of course things could be better. That is what we are working for everyday.

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