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Musings

Another Dose Of Scepticism

With so much talk about cynicism nowadays, it is hard not to be cynical about it. Earlier in Parliament Minister Lawrence Wong had referenced a speech made by parliamentarian Hri Kumar, who earlier spoke of a deep-seated sense of cynicism and hopelessness which characterised political systems in “mature democracies”. In his commentary for The Straits Times he called for Singaporeans to be less cynical, so as to become “a problem-solving democracy” (ST, Jun. 3). Cynicism is antithetical to “constructive” politics, in other words.

Yet the irony is striking. Take Minister Wong’s call to action for instance:

It is because we believe in that collective “democracy of deeds” of active citizens that we launched “Our Singapore Conversation”. Through the OSC, 46,000 people shared their views on issues that mattered to them and their future. They helped to shape the new strategic directions of this Government. Importantly, the conversations are continuing in various policy domains, like the MediShield Life review, and the National Masterplan for Ageing.

It’s easy to be cynical and brush aside such participation as “talk-shops” or “going through the motions”. Such cynicism will lead to apathy and reluctance to get involved. It is a corrosive attitude which has no place in our public life.

Considering the government’s approach towards Internet-based conversations, the paragraphs could have been written like this:

It is because we believe in that collective “democracy of deeds” of active citizens that we engage on the Internet. Through websites, tens of thousands have shared their views on issues that mattered to them and their future. They – to some extent – helped to shape the new strategic directions of this Government. Importantly, the conversations are continuing in various online domains, like the MediShield Life review, and the National Masterplan for Ageing.

It’s easy to be cynical and brush aside such participation as “contributing to echo chambers” or “the vocal minority opposing for the sake of opposing”. Such cynicism will lead to apathy and reluctance to get involved. It is a corrosive attitude which has no place in our public life.

Lapsing into cynicism might seem inevitable for the government, with all the virtual distortions, rumours, untruths, drums… But it should understand that some detractors view the government through the same, cynical lenses. The disconnect persists. The point is that in its eagerness to eradicate supposed public cynicism, the government forgets that it could well be guilty of perpetuating it. Healthy discourse exists beyond state-sanctioned platforms, and the government can learn to be receptive to these perspectives.

The government should not shoulder all the responsibilities. Yet in the same vein it has to trust that the nascent online community will learn to cope with the pervasive misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech. In other words, be less cynical of what we can do.

One final note, former Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam’s remark that Singapore should aspire to be a “democracy of deeds, not words” has clearly stuck with Minister Wong. “[A democracy of deeds, and not words] is a high goal worth striving for”, he wrote, and that means “an active citizenry, engaged in the community, working together for the public good”. Does anyone know when and where the original speech was made?

The closest I got on the Internet was when the former Deputy Prime Minister gave a lunch talk to the Singapore National Union of Journalists in February 1964. Indonesia – the “big brother of South-East Asia” – “must show by deeds and not by words that he is superior to us in wisdom, in ability and rationality” Mr. Rajaratnam wrote. He also added that Malaysia had shown that it could “make democracy work efficiently, fairly and honestly”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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