Friday, 22 September 2023

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NSP ND Message – Seeking solidarity or sympathy?

Donaldson Tan

The first thought in my head after watching National Solidarity Party’s National Day Message video (transcript available here) is whether the key theme of the message is solidarity or sympathy. The only tangible difference between solidarity and sympathy is that the former embodies activism in unity. Yet the hardly inspiring NSP ND Message is only a compilation of familiar woes:

  • Singaporeans are saddled with fear, insecurity and confusion.
  • The authorities act as if to preserve an underclass.
  • Our retirement funds are hit by escalating housing and healthcare costs.
  • More and more Singaporeans are loosing their homes.
  • Lack of comprehensive welfare for Singaporeans.

Where is the inspiration?

Solidarity calls for activism motivated by shared sympathy. Yes, we may all agree with the complaints but what is stopping us from acting on it? Apathy? A sense of helplessness? English Philosopher John Stuart Mill once said, “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands, even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men, no great thing can really be accomplished.”

Society consists of individuals who encounter each other as free and autonomous agents. They enter into contracts largely through choice irrespective of their circumstances. To keep such relations striving, individuals need to have a sense of their own potential and society’s through captivation and inspiration towards certain goals. The purpose of order is thus to create a safe environment for individuals to interact, to exercise their will and to maximise their own potential.

The role of Government goes beyond establishing and preserving order. And as potential candidates for Government, the role of political parties goes beyond highlighting problems and offering solutions. While the Government and political parties must realise they play a key role in inspiring the citizenry, the citizenry must also recognise that the Government and political parties are also its instruments to exercise stakeholdership.

Constructing our common identity

Secretary General Ken Sun lamented, “After 50 years under a solo, authoritarian leadership, Singapore can only project a somewhat vague national identity There is hardly any local song, language, food, fashion or cultural trait with which Singaporeans can truly identify with its nationality.” Not that I want to be a wet blanket, how could NSP miss out something as omnipresent in our society as Singlish?

As transferable characteristics, language and values are the glue that hold us Singaporeans together. As a medium, Singlish describes our values in the most endearing terms such as Kiasu-ism, Kiasi-ism, Bopian-ness whether we are Ahmad, Ah Beng, Ah Neh, Atas or Munjen. Although Singlish has been around since our colonial days, there is notable absence of any reference to our shared heritage and history. There are no Singlish idiomatic expressions that relate to our historical milestones and local folklores.

The humble hawker centre is also one of our national institutions. Virtually every Singaporean dines at hawker centres regardless of economic status or social standing. It is the place where we share common experience and mingle with Singaporeans of other races and religions. We attribute our frequent visits to the hawker centre to our gastronomic fixation on food, yet air-conditioned restaurants offering high-quality cuisine are hardly as popular. Despite the heat and poor standard of service, we will gladly join long queues in the hawker centre. As Singaporeans, a visit to the hawker centre is a humbling experience we all share.

We don’t want sympathy. Emphasising our common identity would have done NSP more good in promoting solidarity.

Closing remarks on presentation

There is plenty of room for improvement. I appreciate effort to present the speech in English, Malay and Mandarin. Yet the speakers lack charisma while their hand gestures have been distracting. Given that this is a National Day Message addressing every Singaporean, I would expect better audio quality too. The National Anthem was cut short abruptly as soon as the display of the National Pledge was over. A better approach would have been to gradually mute the melody of anthem. Lighting in the videos was horrible. In particular, the speaker’s face in each video is loomed in shadow. There is a strong amateurish tinge to the video.


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