I am of the opinion that many websites in Singapore are great platforms for discourse and discussion (here), because struggling and disgruntled Singaporeans gather to articulate personal perspectives. Aptly termed “echo chambers” by some commentators, it would be convenient to dismiss the rants as being petulant and irrational (or that they do not provide suggestions or feasible recommendations); however, these individuals might have lost their jobs, are faced with genuine difficulties in their day-to-day activities, or have pent-up frustrations over socio-economic policies that might have disadvantaged them.
I accept that we all have the right to express our opinions. Even though the government has begun to appreciate the value of on-the-ground conversations, there is tremendous value in online commentaries. Yet, where do we draw the line, especially with some of these comments?
A simple survey of some popular websites could yield some of these observations.
– The suspicion of hidden agendas, particularly when one praises the policymakers for doing something positive (it would appear that we live in a country where the administration and its bureaucrats can do no rights). On Facebook and other social media sites, if one posits that the incumbent has got it right with a policy or announcement, he could be termed as a member of the People’s Action Party (PAP) Internet Brigade (IB), and vice versa.
– Throwing around a bunch of ad hominems, when one finds it difficult to convince another of his personal insights or viewpoints (idiot, stupid, and running) dog).
– Dichotomising political affiliations (you are either “with us or against us”, with the Opposition or with the ruling party), and ignoring the substantive of arguments. It also isn’t uncommon to see individuals hurling insults, and posting generic laundry-lists – that are unconnected to the actual article – containing points of dissatisfaction with the status quo.
– Even in the face of unfortunate or tragic incidents, comments can degenerate into needless name-calling, or a plethora of vitriolic remarks that are peppered with increasingly xenophobic sentiments. Somehow, one way or another, we “creatively” find means and ways to make sense of our plight or unfortunate situations, usually: the gross incompetence and arrogance of the government; the daft and deluded constituents who persist in voting for these politicians; and the “malicious” foreigners, who are somehow responsible for anything and everything wrong in his country.
Maybe it’s time for us to stop accepting these banal forms of arguments, for we are rational and responsible enough to criticise people and events intelligently. Otherwise, where do we go from here?