A picture-perfect image that lacks the human touch

By Ghui


Singaporeans certainly have no lack of topics to discuss these days. With the backdrop of the Population White Paper looming, the ongoing debate on Section 377A raging and the proposing of a National Service Tax, the new norm is for Singaporeans to take a greater interest in the issues that affect their country. Added to the mix is a call for attempted suicide to be decriminalised by the state.

Intelligent and robust discussions on a whole range of matters that have hitherto been ignored have begun and it doesn’t look like it is going to abate anytime soon. It is a change that is refreshing and this transformation must be nurtured and embraced. While seemingly divergent in cause and effect, I wonder if there is actually a bigger common thread that links each of these issues?

Siew Kum Hong has criticised Hri Kumar’s proposal of a national service tax. In his heartfelt article, he says “This proposal encapsulates why the PAP as a whole is struggling so much today. It has become too transactional in its philosophy, the dollars and cents have become too entrenched and central in its thinking. Again, it all makes rational economic sense — but we are real human beings, not abstract economic units”.

Siew went on to say that “the world is about much more than economics, and people are homo sapiens not homo economicus”.

This really struck a chord with me. Although Siew was only talking about the government’s dollars and cents approach in all of its proposed solutions, I wonder if this general attitude of robotic formulas as a means to solve all of our nation’s problems has trickled top down into our day-to-day lives?

In our quest for material wealth and social progress, we have somehow become enamoured with the idea of perceived perfection. Everything and everyone must have a place in this national equation and if someone or something does not fit the bill, it falls through the cracks. To neatly pigeonhole everyone, policies are developed to ensure that the picture perfect image in maintained. This standard operating procedure has gained a momentum of its own – so much so that we are now unable to come up with solutions that have a human touch.

The government’s blueprint for our nation’s future is for the growth of our GDP. In so doing, they forget that it takes so much more than GDP for a nation to be truly prosperous. To tackle our unhappiness at foreigners, Hri Kumar suggests a tax for PRs who do not serve National Service – again an idea that looks only at the numbers game. As Siew rightly points out, how would this improve the lot for Singaporeans? Just because PRs are now in a worse off position does not make our position stronger.

Are we so out of touch with humanity that we cannot see the complexities of feelings and emotions?

The continued criminalisation of homosexuals and attempted suicide further examples of how the government and to some extent, Singaporeans are unable to cope with the more “human” aspects of our country. We cannot deal with things that do not fit our mindset of the “white picket fence” life.

The government’s approach to the campaign for the repeal of section 377A has been akin to an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Excuses from conservative values to the fact that it has always been in our statute books have been used. But no real attempt has been made to tackle the issue head on. But why not?

Is it because of movements like “Love Singapore” who have called on the government to protect the moral fabric of Singapore? Is the government loath to step into a political minefield with conservative Singaporeans?

Diversity and change are to be welcomed – not feared simply because they do not fit into our preconceived notions of acceptability. Just a decade ago, the idea of a freer media or 7 elected opposition MPs in Singapore would have been unthinkable. Everyone was afraid but now that the media is relatively freer and the WP is indeed in Parliament, has all hell broken loose? Are we not the better for it?

Fear of something not checking a box seems to be our overarching problem. The government’s approach to single mothers as persona non grata is but another example of this.

Have we forgotten to look at fellow Singaporeans as simply human beings trying to live their lives and get by?

Trying to neatly divide our fellow citizens into preset compartments is a zero sum game where no one really benefits. At the end of the day, albeit in varying degrees, no one will really fit perfectly into any one box – so why enforce and propagate the rules of this rigidity?

I don’t want to over simplify all of the issues that Singapore faces but it seems to me that if we just looked at each other as human beings as opposed to sizing each other up to see which box the other could be packed in, we would be one step closer to a more inclusive Singapore.

Perhaps, the key to many of these “problems” is acceptance and not some black or white prescription that works only in theory.