Friday, August 17, 2007

Post No. 117: You Are Either With Us Or Against Us?

I am inspired by 2 incidents, both of which are coincidentally related to 2 articles published by The Online Citizen (TOC) about 2 weeks ago, to write this essay.

The first article was one which looked at the possible negative repercussions that MM Lee’s critical comments about the Indonesian political system during his recent visit there could create for Singapore-Indonesia bilateral relations. In contrast with the bulk of the readers’ comments (which were critical of MM Lee and his comments), I gave 2 comments that suggested an alternative viewpoint. Then, after I provided these 2 comments, another reader in response to my comments, lobbed a rather unsavoury accusation (a false one, in fact) against me (specifically, I was falsely accused of trying to lick MM Lee’s b***s). And, of course, being slightly slighted by this unsavoury accusation (who wouldn’t?), I then gave a reply to it that contained a mild sting in it.

The other article was about TOC welcoming Mr. Ephraim Loy, a Young PAP (YPAP) member on whose blog Foreign Minister George Yeo is a guest blogger, as its new co-editor. This news was almost immediately met with a slew of comments about how TOC have sold out and would soon, due to the inclusion of Mr. Loy as a co-editor, become yet another outlet for “papaganda” (sic). Some of the comments also suggested that Mr. Loy, due to his membership in the YPAP, was a PAP lackey. Of course, there were also several comments which gave Mr. Loy’s becoming of a co-editor of TOC the benefit of the doubt but, as far as I can see, most of the comments were rather critical of Mr. Loy becoming a co-editor of TOC.

Perhaps I am thinking too much but these 2 articles (and the comments made in response to them) appears, to me, to be symptomatic of a rather unhealthy, if not disturbing, phenomenon in the local socio-political blogosphere (and which may also extend into real lie). This phenomenon is that there appears to be what I would call an “us versus them” or a “you are either with the PAP Government or with us” mentality within the local socio-political blogosphere. Also, it would seems to me that this mentality is perhaps more prevalent amongst readers who frequent local socio-political blogs (of course, by this, I do not mean that local socio-political bloggers are immune to such a mentality of “us versus them”).

For those who are unclear about what it is I am referring to, allow me to illustrate with 2 hypothetical scenarios (which perhaps may not be that hypothetical).

Let’s suppose that you all own a blog and post an entry which is critical of either the PAP Government, a member of this government, a government policy or just local politics in general, it is highly likely that you all would soon become Mr./Ms Popular in the local blogosphere. It is also highly likely that your blogs will have comments coming in which concur with your criticism and say things that are even more radical than your criticism (I should know, having received my fair share of such comments when I post entries which are critical of the PAP Government and/or their policies; of course, I chose to not publish these comments lest my blog attract the wrong sort of attention).

Conversely, if you all post a blog entry which is either remotely pro-PAP Government (or perceived so) or not critical enough in its remarks about the PAP Government, you all better have a thick enough skin and be prepared to have all sorts of unsavoury and/or less-than-civil epithets hurled at you. Such epithets would perhaps include (but not limited to) “PAP lackey”, “ignorant”, “naïve”, “stupid”, “tricked by ‘papaganda’”, “PAP wannabe” (if I have not remembered wrongly, both Mr. Aaron Ng and Ms Gayle Goh were once accused of being “PAP wannabes” and/or using their blogs as a stepping stone to a future political career) and “bootlicker”.

Hopefully, the above 2 hypothetical scenarios have made my point about an “us versus them”/ “you are either with the PAP Government or with us” mentality existing in the local socio-political blogosphere clearer.

As I have said above, I am of the opinion that such a mentality is unhealthy, if not disturbing. I say this mainly because of 3 reasons which I shall elaborate more upon below.

Firstly, this “us versus them”/ “you are either with the PAP Government or with us” mentality is disturbing to me because it perhaps reflects a certain lack of political maturity amongst Singaporeans (or at least those who frequent local socio-political blogs and pass less-than-civil and/or radical comments).

I do not know about you all but, to me, political maturity is demonstrated if people adopting different stances on certain issues are able to, despite their differences in opinions, engage with one another in a civil manner (with emphasis on “civil”) and not resort to name-calling, false accusations and mud-slinging. I mean, it is most easy to call a person, whose political opinion is different from yours, stupid and/or a bootlicker but, in my opinion, it takes a certain level of maturity to have a civil discussion/debate with that person (and, hopefully, defeat him/her in a civil manner also).

Anyway, one may label a person, whose political opinion is different from what one holds, as being ignorant and/or a government lackey but does this act of name-calling makes one’s political opinion any more valid, better or true? I hardly think so. Instead, it seems to me that once one resort to name-calling while debating another person, one not only demonstrated the weakness of one’s case (I mean, if one’s case is strong enough, it won’t be necessary for one to resort to name-calling, would it?) but also perhaps demonstrate one’s lack of maturity and maybe even lack of proper upbringing.

The second reason why I find it worrying that people are perhaps having a “you are either with the PAP Government or with us” mentality is that it hints at a rather large divide between the government and Singaporeans. It seems to me that to at least some Singaporeans, all decisions and actions by the establishment are instinctively greeted with skepticism & cynicism and, in some cases, insidious ulterior motives are attributed to these decisions and actions. In other words, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the minds of certain Singaporeans, the PAP Government is guilty till proven innocent, if not guilty even though proven innocent. Thus, while I agree that we need to remain vigilant against any possible potential abuses by those in power, it is my opinion that it would not bode well for the future of a country if the people and the government of that country perceives and treats one another as mortal enemies. Be vigilant, not biased.

Sidetracking, I suppose that some of you all may perhaps dispute my points above on the grounds that the PAP Government also perhaps engage in less-than-civil tactics and perceives/treats its political opponents as its mortal enemies. Well, to this I can only respond that while I am not noble (or idealistic) enough to suggest that we all turn the other cheek, I suppose that Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said: “An eye for an eye makes the world go blind” (and if I may jokily add: “And a tooth for a tooth will make everyone need dentures” B-P).

Moving on, another reason why I am concerned with there perhaps being a phenomenon of “you are either with the PAP Government or with us” mentality existing in the local socio-political blogosphere (and the frequent readers of it) is that I fear that it damages the reputation and credibility of the local socio-political blogosphere. I mean, already we have members of the mainstream media and authorities trying to portray the local online community as a place where non-credible and unsavoury characters with an anti-establishment bias lurk, let’s not make it even easier for them to do so be persisting with an “us versus them” mentality.

It is my belief, or at least my hope, that we have it in us to evolve beyond the current situation to achieve a stage in which we all are able to actively participate in an objective, rational and civil discourse about local affairs. Hopefully, that day will come sooner than later.

In conclusion, I suppose that I risk possible censure with this post of mine, considering that I have not been overtly critical of the establishment in it and thus making it possible that I will be falsely accused of being a bootlicker, naïve and/or stupid. Oh well, after being falsely accused of attempting to lick MM Lee’s b***s, I suppose I am prepared for censure. Anyway, if I do get unsavoury accusations thrown at me due to this post of mine, my case is perhaps validated.

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