Last updated on October 19th, 2015 at 05:32 pm
By Jean Yap (not her real name)
This is an essay concerning swing voters, pluralistic ignorance, and opposition unity
Firstly, I would like to begin by stating my opinion that designating 11 September as polling day is inauspicious. It is also insensitive for obvious reasons. Sometimes I wonder what is going through the head of the current administration.
The opposition was soundly defeated not on the grounds of incompetence, credibility, or likeability. The candidates were on par, if not better, than soldiers of the PAP. In fact, I would say a fair number of them are more deserving of the now famous million dollar salary. They had the iron in them. Unfortunately, it was not to be as the tides of fortune favored the opponent.
Some of my friends, local and overseas, asked me what I thought of the watershed elections since the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In particular, there was a certain buzz on how the PAP could have achieved an unexpected landslide victory. The catchphrase here is “unexpected.” Herein lies my views.
First, there are those who may be identified as having an obligation that can be attributed to some form of tradition, certainty, or principle to vote for the opposition. They invariably mark a cross on the opposition logo with gusto and irrevocable determination, so will the individual who feels the same for the incumbent PAP. Those who do not possess a predisposed inclination for either will equivocate. These are what has been known in political lingo as the swing voters, an endearing term, but no less powerful.
Put in this context, it all boils down to one thing – Psychology.
In social psychology, pluralistic ignorance is a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it. This is also described as "no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes."
Pluralistic ignorance may help to explain what is known as the bystander effect. If no-one acts, onlookers may believe others believe action is incorrect, and may therefore themselves refrain from acting. Let me elaborate.
If you were holding a voting card, you may be thinking that voting for the opposition is the right thing to do. However, you may also assume that others are feeling an obligation to vote for the PAP because the balance is overwhelmingly tilted toward the opposition scale. This conclusion is easily arrived at based on massive rally turnouts, the heroics of CSJ that appealed to compassion over and above reason, as well as the unprecedented contesting of all wards.
Therefore, you give the vote to the PAP.
Pluralistic ignorance was blamed for exacerbating support for segregation in the 1960s. It has also been named a reason for the illusionary popular support that kept the communist regime in the Soviet Union, as many opposed the regime but assumed that others were supporters of it. Thus, most people were afraid to voice their opposition.
Does it make sense now to you, the reader? Here is more.
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" highlights a case of pluralistic ignorance. In this story a whole town fears speaking out on an obvious injustice out of fear that they would stand out believing nobody else could see what they saw. Two con artists came into the Emperor's kingdom and convinced him that they made the finest clothes in all of the land that could only be seen by anyone who was not stupid. The con artists continued to steal gold, silk and other precious items for their "unique creation". Out of fear for being seen as stupid, all of the emperor's men and townspeople kept their mouths shut about the fact they could not see the outfit and the emperor was prancing around seemingly naked until finally a small child came forth and declared that the emperor was walking around naked. They believed that if an innocent child could see it, then they must have all seen it, and finally came forward to admit that the emperor had been tricked and that there was never an outfit being made.
Pluralistic ignorance has been linked to a wide range of deleterious consequences. In particular, pluralistic ignorance can lead groups to persist in policies and practices that have lost widespread support: This can lead corporations to persist in failing strategies, and governments to persist in unpopular foreign policies.
Before I move on to the topic of opposition unity, an issue that I would like to expound upon is the population growth. I recall someone making a comment about a 10 million population. Does he know what he is talking about? I wonder. Overcrowding will bring the country to its knees. I really hope the current administration has a good plan for this. Competition for limited resources places tremendous strain on the populace. Mental institutions will be flooded with those who cannot cope. Suicide rates will rise, not to mention crime. Greed threatens to overrun the nation. These administrators, men with their machine minds and machine hearts, what do they know of the suffering of the people? Is the government too hasty in announcing the successful integration of locals with new citizens? Integration or disintegration? Are Singaporeans truly integrated with new citizens? The true decision makers, men and women obsessed with development, urbanization, and wealth, are mad.
The current population trajectory is tantamount to a government biting off more than they can chew. What next? A suburban housing project on Coney Island?
This is not a game of cards. Putting the future of Singapore in the hands of a select few industrialists is akin to playing Russian roulette. They will screw things up faster than a Napoleon who leads his grand army deep into the arctic steppes of Russian territory, spurred by the shrewd incitation of Alexander, only to find his horses frozen and the men all but defeated in spirit; the Patriotic War of 1812. Economic expansion will not bring happiness, instead it will usher in unprecedented misery in the people. Why do the people not learn from history? Perhaps they believe that they are capable of great miracles, a narrative familiar to all in Singapore. Time will tell. Somebody remarked that reputation is temporary, and character permanent. And Lee Hsien Loong has the cheek to agree! How does it profit the nation if she has the reputation for having the best airport, the busiest port, and the glorious title of a “little dragon,” if it also holds the dubious distinction of having the most unhappiness, the longest working hours, and the fastest erosion of cultural values, not to mention precariously sliding national solidarity, freedom of the media and trust in the government.
Furthermore, is a one-party rule typical of character? It reeks more of despotism and insecurity. Yes, insecurity. Fear is insidious. It does not greet you in the morning but creeps up to you in the throes of life. It does not manifest in newspaper headlines but permeates the private sphere, relationships, and the family unit. It causes unrest. The way to assuage this semblance of uncertainty is active debate, dialectics, and resolution, not one Internal Security Act. A grand voice used to call Dr Chee Soon Juan a psychopath. I think the real psychopath is hiding somewhere else. Lee Hsien Loong is not, and will never be, a brilliant statesman. The historians will take care of that. Forgive me if this seems a bit harsh. Few would disagree. To be fair, not many can claim to be his father’s equal, in terms of merit, as well as ruthlessness. Some people who are inclined towards invoking cultural references have drawn comparisons between Lee Hsien Loong and the son of Liu Bei of the Three Kingdoms. That is indeed rather harsh. I prefer to draw parallels with someone else from the Warring States. But I digress. Suffice to say, the Machiavellian ethos of the ends justifying the means seems to run in the family. One can build a casino, one can also ignore the harmful effects of gambling on the citizenry, individuals, and families.
How can one make such a premature evocation of and lay claim to the title of the British natural aristocracy? This, when voices of dissent, the rich-poor divide, and disillusionment with government policies are at an unprecedented high. If this is not arrogance, I do not know what is.
The only way to rattle the ironclad grip on power of the PAP is opposition unity, bar none. It became an issue of contention and garnered quite a bit of media interest early on even before the campaigning started. Its neglect, underestimation, and eventual feature of indifference, especially evident in one particular camp, came back to haunt all parties. Do remember, pride comes before a fall.
The Chinese have a saying, I would like to repeat it here: Unity is Strength. A band of bandits without aim is susceptible to nothing more than a single blow. A united opposition front requires time to build, necessitates the sharing of resources, and demands the leadership of charismatic individuals who are not afraid of making a hell lot of enemies. This, in tandem with a powerful and concerted presence on social media. In time, these men and women will attract allies from all quarters. That is a universal law.
Therefore, it took only a bit of inertia, a state-run media orchestrated to overplay the huge support for the opposition rallies, and a photograph of the prime minister sound asleep in the comfort of his Mercedes-Benz to wipe the smug off the faces of the opposition leaders and restore the swagger in the footsteps of the PAP. Knuckleduster politics of the highest order, when not a single troop is lost.
It is important for stakeholders to understand that the take-home message for the defeat of the opposition in GE2015 is that a single straw alone breaks easily but when placed together in a bunch, is all but indestructible.
This essay is done by a 17 year old JC student for her GP, general paper, assignment.