There were two noteworthy nuggets of information in Straits Times’ front page story about employment numbers in 2015 (Friday, 29 January 2016). This essay will discuss the nugget from this statement: “Just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs at the end of last year compared with the year before, although unemployment remained low, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.” My main aim in this essay is to examine the unquestioned assumptions that too often skew our appreciation of the facts.
Archive for the 'knowledge and belief' Category
Wealth does not buy happiness. The state of Singapore society today is perhaps proof of this adage.
A newly-released joint study by Gallup and Healthways is a wake-up call to anyone who still thinks that prioritising economic growth is the master key to happiness. Especially coming, as it does in Singapore’s case, with a widening income gap and a shrinking space for self-actualisation (rights and freedoms) such prioritisation only increases tension, stress and conflict. Quality of life diminishes.
Out of 145 countries surveyed, Singapore ranked a miserable 97th. Continue reading ‘Rich but feeling empty, exhausted and alienated’
Sometimes a post you see on Facebook is not the latest news. You’re momentarily fooled by it and you can embarrass yourself by reacting as if it was the latest happening. But that’s the beauty of the internet too. Nothing is forgotten. Gems from the past resurface. What you didn’t know before you know now.
And so it was with a Wall Street Journal blog titled Wozniak: Apple couldn’t emerge in Singapore. It was only after I had finished reading it, just as I was about to click away, that I noticed it was dated 15 December 2011. But no matter. What Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had to say is still very relevant.
“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished” Mr. Wozniak said in a recent interview with the BBC. “Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”
Speaking specifically about Singapore, he said that though many people are educated with well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seem to have disappeared.
Go read it and listen to the BBC interview
In the audio of the interview, Wozniak said innovative change happens when “big guys” are challenged. He spoke about the importance of “liberal counterculture thinking” and how “big guys that just want to crank the wheels and keep things running” must be contested by new ideas. Alluding to Singapore, he described a society where people are “taught this nationalism… not to think what’s right and wrong, but to take a side at an early age. That’s not lined up with creativity.”
“Thinking for yourself is creativity.”
In hallowed journalism style, reporters Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes included a response by Singapore officials to Wozniak’s comment.
Speaking about Internet innovation, Jayson Goh, Executive Director for Infocomms & Media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said he was happy that “many innovative Internet companies” had chosen Singapore as the focal point for their investment in Southeast Asia, specifically naming Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook.
“We will continue to work…to enhance the infrastructure to create a conducive environment for enterprises to provide innovative solutions,” Mr. Goh said.
Singapore actively encourages startups and entrepreneurship in the city-state. According to government statistics, 29,798 companies were formed in Singapore in 2010 across all sectors, a 13% increase from the previous year.
You can’t help but see Jayson Goh speaking from a (poorly-prepared) script. To start with, why give a number of new companies “across all sectors”? How many of these sell cupcakes, Hello Kitty cellphone jackets, or provide foot reflexology? There’s an awfully large number of such enterprises around town.
Secondly, how does the statistic of new companies incorporated address the question of culture and human talent (including artists and writers) that Wozniak was speaking about?
Thirdly and likewise, how does name-dropping big American companies as investors (“Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook”) address the same question? The reflexive reliance on inward investment by foreign companies only serves to indicate that we are still stuck in the Texas Instruments days — that’s 1969, when a huge song and dance was staged after this American company set up an electronics assembly plant in Singapore (Bendemeer Road, if I remember correctly) employing several hundred young adults (mostly women) doing repetitive menial work. Texas Instruments was high-tech in its day. But rolling out the red carpet for a high-tech investor is not the same thing as having your own citizens be the inventors and creators of original art and science.
More specifically, the WSJ blog mentions a particular investment by Google, positioned to sound like a rebuttal of Wozniak’s point. Whether it was Jayson Goh or some other source that pointed WSJ to this I cannot say (but knowing how these media responses work, you can probably allow that Jayson or another source from the Economic Development Board would have mentioned it as part of their comment). That investment was of a US$120 million data center.
Those two words ‘data center’ were what triggered this post. I had a vague idea what such a thing was. I promptly did a websearch and it more or less confirmed my mental picture of one. It’s typically a huge facility housing numerous servers and switches, backed up by reliable power supply and environmental systems. The top picture is of a data center by techxact.com. They are the workhorses of the internet age, the warehouses of the information goods that our age produces. They are not places where new information is made. Humans don’t figure very strongly in them, let alone innovative creative types.
How does Google building a data center in Singapore disproof Wozniak’s criticism? It does not. It is monumentally embarrassing that we can’t even provide intelligent responses. We read off a script that relies on an audience’s ignorance, conflating one with another: companies registered (cupcakes included) in answer to a question about brilliant inventors nurtured; human-free data centers in answer to a question about artists.
Worse yet, the pride we take in being able to attract foreigners and their money tells us we’re stuck in a groove. We can’t conceive of development any way other than having capitalist juggernauts roll over us.
Right up to the last moment, I wasn’t sure if I should use the preamble I had prepared. The point I wanted to make in the preamble was that I believed Singaporeans were going to be instinctively resistant to the idea of constitutional redrafting. Our aversion to taking risks, our long indoctrination in the idea that political experimentation would be extremely dangerous for a small, vulnerable city-state with no natural resources or strategic depth to rely on (yes, a habit of mind formulated by the ruling People’s Action Party, but today espoused by many as almost biblical truth), would likely mean that the idea I was about to float would be dismissed as a foolish, hazardous pipe-dream. Continue reading ‘A second republic’
Where we go wrong is in our use of words. I have always cringed when Singaporeans use the word “house” to mean their flat. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I would only use the word “house” when I refer to a dwelling that sits directly on a plot of land; I would not use it for a pigeon coop in the sky. If one looks at international usage, that’s probably the norm.
The wrong choice of words affects how we think of something. Words come with associations and values. I’d argue that our careless choice of words warp how we think of Housing and Development Board flats — public housing in which 85% of Singaporeans live. Continue reading ‘Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead’
Andrew Loh posted a ‘scratch head’ article recently about the contradiction between what then-Minister of State Halimah Yaacob said in 2011 at a CEDAW conference in New York and the Court of Appeal affirming Section 377A to be constitutional. In A difference of opinion between the gov’t and the Court of Appeal?, he quoted Halimah as telling delegates at that UN conference that
The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. All persons in Singapore are entitled to the equal protection of the law, and have equal access to basic resources such as education, housing and health care. Like heterosexuals, homosexuals are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities.
But just a month ago, the Court of Appeal ruled differently. Continue reading ‘In our circus, few understand what ‘equal protection of the law’ means’
The recent controversy about a ‘riot control exercise’ reveals a blind spot among ministers and not a few decision-makers and ‘grassroots’ surrounding them. They seem unable to see a point of view that is emerging in Singapore: what I would call the ‘Post-independence generation’ outlook. This outlook is subtly but importantly different from that of the People’s Action Party and its devout followers in terms of how they see race and nationality in our society. PAP et al see race and nationality as a reality we have to accept and work with, but the new outlook puts a moral (dis)value on such distinctions and want us to actively avoid using them. Continue reading ‘Khaw finds obedience school ‘meaningful’’
Bad news this morning. The Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court since we abolished appeals to Britain’s Privy Council, has ruled that Section 377A of the Penal Code is not unconstitutional. Section 377A criminalises sex between men, and is the key piece of legislation that justifies a plethora of other rules and regulations that discriminate against gay people.
I haven’t had time to read the 100-page judgement — thus a short post today — but snippets reported in the press this morning, such as this below, suggest that it is going to be a screamer, crying out for deconstruction. Continue reading ‘So now, the constitution’s the problem?’
The missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is proving to be an unprecedented mystery. We’re now in the sixth day since the plane was reported missing, and no one knows where it is. With no hard facts forthcoming, news feeds were beginning to lose interest until yesterday (Wednesday, 12 March) when two fresh leads emerged — though these too may eventually prove to be unrelated to the aircraft.
Meanwhile, criticism of the performance of Malaysian leaders is growing. Continue reading ‘Malaysia Airlines missing plane mystery extends into sixth day’
Guest essay by Liew Kai Khiun
In May 2013, Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson caused a storm by attributing the limitations of the premises of the theories of the prominent economist John M. Keynes to his sexuality where:
Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.[i]