6 Jan 2006


by John Cobin

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This column is the second segment of a two-part series commenting on the lack of liberty in Singapore. [Part One is available here.]

Singapore may enjoy a high degree of economic prosperity but its inhabitants are hardly free. If you want to have a rousing discussion about politics, economics, sociology or culture, you won’t find it in Singapore. Singapore’s state fears that such discussions might lead to unwanted communist or Western liberal influences. Sue Ann Tellman notes: “The Government is uncomfortable with the notion that there may be a higher power than itself and has instituted a Religious Harmony Act which prohibits any preaching on social or political issues.”[8] I wonder if Evangelical pastors in Singapore have been complying with this affront to their Lord? I also wonder what Evangelical pastors and theologians in America will do when “hate crimes” enforcement becomes so stiff that pulpits become constrained by state regulators. What will it take, if anything, for American religious leaders to take a stand for liberty like our forefathers?

The fascist state in Singapore imposes happiness on its people. The state claims to know what makes people happy and works to fulfill their needs through economic improvement and by coercive behavior modification. Yet many of the people in Singapore yearn to be free. They are willing to give up Walden, the Brave New World that Singapore offers, in order to be free. One Chinese taxi driver enthusiastically told me that Singapore’s government was merely “modern communism”. While he liked the safety and efficiency of Singapore, he hated the lack of liberty. He said he would rather live in Thailand.

A journalist with four siblings living in America went out of her way to talk with my wife and me. She must have known it was “safe” to speak her mind to Americans in a restaurant. She, like others who spoke to us, said Singapore was an “efficient” city, much like Hitler’s Germany, but compared the people to “robots”. The press is controlled and she is not allowed to criticize the government or its policies. And censure extends even further. A story we saw in the Straits Times[9] detailed the plight of a Singapore doctor who was heavily fined for criticizing another doctor’s methods (and for refusing to retract her statement). One of the journalist’s siblings recently decided to leave America after the Bush administration’s quasi-fascist policy of mandatory fingerprinting at the border (through the Patriot Act) was begun. For him, America had begun to look and feel a little too much like fascist Singapore.

Ignorant Americans continue to support proactive public policy that supports greater “security” and state control by pragmatically supporting the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, and illegal wiretappings. There is little more than a short-lived sputter of fury for anti-freedom policies in America—like the real property expropriations inspired by the Kelo decision, the so-called War on Drugs, and the RICO statutes. So long as the money is flowing, it seems that most Americans are apathetic about truly fighting for liberty.

Perhaps at a distance the economic prosperity of Brave New Singapore is something to be desired. (A day trip might prove an aid in convincing someone.) But my two days there, though intriguing, left me despairing for those people and yearning to leave with little desire to return. Liberty is a rare thing in the history of the world and Americans are at present squandering it—led by misguided and gullible Republicans. If Americans could only see and feel what they are losing by traveling to socially less free places then maybe they would not so willingly give up the heritage of our Founding Fathers. Let us remember that the American Colonies in 1770 were considered to be among the most prosperous places in the world. Yet the Founders were willing to risk losing it all for a chance at being truly free. What Samuel Adams said in 1776 rings true for us today: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity [sic] of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, —go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!” The people who choose to remain in Singapore have elected to “crouch down” before the state. Will Americans likewise deny the principles upon which their country was founded?


[8] As Tellman relates: “[F]ear is all-pervasive. Even one political joke told in the wrong place can ruin a career. One Singaporean’s comments explain much: ‘Boundaries have been drawn on our lives, governing everything from how to live our private lives to how extensively we can participate in the political arena. Through local newspapers, radio, television, the community centres, resident committees, People’s Association and the People’s Action Party itself, we have been told to have unquestioning faith in our leaders. Even if we don’t, many of us will not dare to say so publicly. Those who have challenged the Government have faced imprisonment, torture, loss of all political rights or exile.”

[9] December 11, 2005.


The Legal Janitor said...

I think the biggest problem that the author faces is that he tries to transpose political and ideological differences in the United States on to Singapore, which obviously does not work.

In America, generally speaking, the Dems favour state intervention in the economy while preserving social freedoms, while social conservatives by and large prefer state interference in personal freedoms.

This situation does not exist in Singapore. Singaporeans by and large are both socially conservative AND like the state to intervene in the economy.

In the absence of an electorate anything like the American population, his arguments and attempts to draw parallels simply cannot stand.

Anonymous said...

singapore has many problems, but he failed to pinpoint the right ones

his outburst probably reflects his drawing a blank in trying to start any hardhitting discussions; we all know how hard it is to get people to open up

Anonymous said...

i did not like the article because the trade-off between "freedom" and "high degree of economic prosperity" is not seriously looked into.

Anonymous said...

prostitution, gambling and abortion are allowed; singapore more free than usa

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