This letter was submitted via the Readers’ Contribution page.
Having perused through several articles touching on the FT issue from various sites, some of which admittedly containing obvious political slants towards both ends, I have encountered what I shall term “Our Forefathers were FTs Too” Argument, “OFWFT Argument” for short.
The OFWFT Argument usually arises as a rebuttal towards a comment or post disparaging either the Government’s immigration policy or the FTs who enter Singapore through such policies. It seeks to debase a critique (whether sound or not, that is not the issue here) on grounds that we should not be adverse to FTs because our forefathers were FTs themselves. The OFWFT Argument dismisses an opposing view by criticizing the inconsistency of the person presenting it rather than the view presented. However, the presentor’s inconsistency should not discredit his position. The OFWFT Argument is hence an example of an ad hominem argument.
Even taking into account the ad hominem nature of the argument, there are (what I believe to be) sound reasons why the OFWFT Argument should fall.
Firstly, the culture we have in Singapore is different from that which our forefathers experienced. Despite being a melting-pot-nation, formed from immigrants around the world, the Singapore we know of today is vastly different from the Singapore that started out when our forefathers first stepped foot onto Singapore. Although we are only a young nation, most of us perhaps only third or forth generation immigrants, the culture we have now is although not entirely different, it is distinctively different from the yesteryears when police still wore shorts. If culture were to revert back to what we had 48 years ago, many present day Singaporeans would feel out of place and alienated by this “Singaporean” culture.
With modern day experiences vastly different from what our forefathers experienced, we now have an immensely differently culture from before. I have no anecdotal evidence to support my next statement, but I personally am of the opinion that many of our immigrant forefathers experienced culture shocks when they first entered Singapore as well. How this weakens the OFWFT Argument is simply this: The myriad of reasons why our forefathers were tolerant and accepting, perhaps even welcoming of fellow immigrants simply do not apply in modern day Singapore due to the difference in culture. Yes our forefathers were immigrants, but we of today are not our forefathers. We do not identify ourselves with the various villages our ancestors hailed from; we identify ourselves as Singaporeans, for better or for worse.
Secondly, our forefathers had the choice of immigrating into Singapore. Our forefathers entered Singapore knowing of all the challenges they may face. The Government of the day did not thrust into their faces an immigration policy favouring newer migrants. Admittedly, this argument would be vulnerable to attacks such as, “you have the choice of emigrating out of Singapore if you don’t like it here”, but such arguments do actually stretch the truth.
The “choice” most Singaporeans have to leave Singapore is illusory at best. Considering that for one to make an informed and rational decision regarding such a “choice”, one should minimally be a functional adult (well, maybe a functional adult makes that decision for you), the opportunity costs invested by that individual into Singapore up until that point in time, could possibly make it too unfeasible to subsequently leave Singapore.
Take the example of your average Singaporean male who’s life is disrupted by NS (I understand the importance of NS, but at this juncture, lets consider NS as an opportunity cost invested by the individual). With most Singaporean males entering NS between the ages of 18-20, it is safe to assume that with minimal prior working or real world experiences, the ability of such individuals to make an informed decision to emigrate is improbable. Even if the individual is remarkably mature enough to make such a choice, he would be restricted from immigrating into another country for economic reasons. With NS disrupting the pursuit of further education at a University, and minimal prior work experiences, it is unlikely that another country would accept such an immigrant. Hypothetically, even if a country accepts this individual who can contribute next to nothing to country, this individual risks leaving behind all his friends, family, and culture. Apart from NS, there are other opportunities costs ranging from the relationships formed with other Singaporeans, to the emotional bond to the Singaporean culture. Male of female, NS or not, I am of the opinion that most Singaporeans are too heavily invested into the nation whether we like it or not, making the choice of emigration merely illusory for the average Singaporean.
Before ending this piece, I would like to insert a caveat that my writings are inevitably influenced by my political opinions. Furthermore, despite being unhappy with the influx of foreigners, I understand the necessity behind such policies. With globalization and the world moving towards a borderless economy, protectionist measures are unreliable in the long-run, especially for a nation like Singapore. Hence, I hope this piece is taken merely a rebuttal of the OFWFT Argument rather than the usual angst riddled post against the immigration policy in general (I have tried to avoid commenting on the immigration policy’s efficacy in addressing our national needs). Also, in line with the exposé of the OFWFT Argument as an ad hominem argument, I do hope that the rebuttals towards this piece do not fall foul of such fallacies. I admit that my grammar and writing may not be up to scratch, but do try (and I completely welcome you) to find faults in my opinions and discuss them further, rather than to resort to personal attacks.