Singapore’s survival is not guaranteed. If you’ve followed Game of Thrones, or Mass Effect, or the Ender’s Game prequels – the warning is always the same. Winter is coming. The reapers are coming. The Formics are coming. A house divided will not stand. We can all have our differences, but we will need to set aside our grievances to withstand our common enemies. Our common challenges. We are a tiny red dot, a sampan floating on a Malayan breeze. We’re fragile but don’t realize it, and we’ve heard so many people say it that it’s easy to write them off as scaremongering. (And yes, it doesn’t make sense to live with panicked fear. Rather, we need to calmly assess the reality of our situation and act accordingly.)
Folks from the government will always have their hands a little tied – they cannot speak frankly about some issues because of the challenges of their position. (Consider, for example how MPs will never openly state that some of their constituents who show up at their MPS sessions are selfish and entitled, because they’ll get all sorts of backlash for it.) (I’m also thinking now about sensitive issues around our Middle East policies– which I’m hesitant to write about because I don’t know all the details [who does?] and I don’t want to say something unhelpful).
I’ve thought about this multiple times over the years – about whether Singapore is something that’s really worth fighting for. And – after seriously, seriously considering the alternative, I’ve come to think that it is. Singapore has its share of problems and challenges (and the weather…), but it’s really something special against the backdrop of most of the world. I’m not the most well-travelled person in the world, but I’ve been to Cebu, Bangkok, Johor. I went went back to my grandfather’s village in Chennai in early 2016. It was so dingy and dusty. It was interesting to be in the Philippines, where so many of our domestic helpers come from, and to see people jiving to music out in the open, and where shopping malls have security checks to make sure you don’t have any firearms on your person. To Bangkok, the land of smiles, where I accidentally walked right into the middle of a massive protest (which really seemed much more like a big happy party, except for a few newspaper headline photo moments). To India, where the moment you step out of the airport you’re accosted by smiling men who start loading your luggage onto a car, hoping to get some tips out of it.
The point is… Singapore’s something special, and it’s very easy to take it for granted. It’s very easy to rely on the Night’s Watch to guard our borders, so we can focus on catching Pokemon or bickering about hawker ceilings or bin centers. And all of those things are themselves important. The people who stay up at night ensuring our survival do so to protect our freedom to pursue the frivolous and trivial and mundane. But we should get involved.
Here are some of my concerns:
one– Changing geopolitics. China is on the rise. That’s great for millions of people who are being lifted out of poverty. But change always comes with costs. China has good intentions I’m sure. Our neighbours do too, and yet we have things like Konfrontasi in our history which results in lives being lost. It’s a point-of-view that applies even to us as individuals– that we can love our families and friends, but we have to also protect ourselves from what harm they might cause us.
two– terrorism. I am not a scholar or academic. I cannot say for sure what caused terrorism. Perhaps it’s echoes of colonialism, some say religion itself – the crusades and whatnot. Jihad vs Mcworld. These are challenging conversations to have. But you know –when a terrorist or ‘freedom fighter’ detonates a bomb that kills your friends and family, it’s hard to sit down and look at it through dispassionate lens of global power struggles. When someone sets off a bomb in Singapore, there’s a good chance they’re going to claim to be acting on behalf of a certain belief system. The goal of that is to divide us. To sow suspicion and discord among our citizens. We must not let them.
three– Technological advancement. We are currently living in the most complex time in the history of the human species. If the collective we call Singapore is to survive, we will have to adapt. We are seeing reusable rockets, driverless cars, increasingly intelligent AI… we cannot bury our heads in the ground at all of this. Singapore survived its difficult inception because of its bold commitments to embracing technology (the story of how we adapted to the advent of modern container shipping is probably not told enough– as well as the rise and fall of computer chip manufacture, and then banking), and it’ll have to continue to do so or risk being left behind. Our taxi drivers are going to be affected when driverless car technology becomes viable, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to avoid the future. We should do what we can to help them manage the transition, but we must engage with the future as it comes.
four – distractions. It will be tempting to do XYZ. We have to stay focused. We should exploit every advantage that is available to us, because there aren’t many. We should eat healthier, exercise more, keep our healthcare costs down. We should build relationships with one another, share our knowledge and expertise. Do exchanges with /r/malaysia, etc. /r/ASEAN should be a thriving subreddit, the Southeast Asian community deserves to have its own identity and community in this rapidly changing modern world. We have to build up the social capital now before we need it, so that we’ll be able to better come together to take collective action when necessary. It’s a common joke that ASEAN is an ineffectual organization that doesn’t accomplish much – but whose fault is that? Why do we blame our leaders? We should step up to the plate ourselves and build our own relationships with one another. Whether you’re a musician, an academic, whatever – there are all sorts of opportunities to collaborate with one another across our shores, and we should lean towards that. Our children will be glad that we did.
Singapore is well positioned to be one of Earth’s greatest cities, and I think we don’t appreciate that enough. What’s stopping us? We have some draconian attitudes towards things like sex education, LGBT, marital rape, drugs. We need social capital. Learn, grow, educate ourselves and take ownership of our own future and destiny, not just wait for the Government to do something about it.
We cannot depend on PM Lee and his team alone, or the PAP or the Worker’s Party or a combination of both. We must ourselves defend Singapore. We must all take a personal interest, we must all be active citizens. That’s how we flourish. That’s how we stand out.
Most people in the world are somewhat happy-go-lucky, a little sloppy. If we stay focused, chalenge one another, we can show the world what Singapore can be.