6 Jul 2006

Political Singlish

Political Singlish from yuenchung

One of the very unique terms of Singapore's political lexicon is "OB Markers" - OB being short for "Out of Bound". While the meaning of this is very clear in Singapore, what would a foreign journalist make of this? Is this about soccer? (World Cup Round 1 is going on right now) Is it related to Outward Bound (an organization to promote youth travel to gain experience and exposure)? A brand of whiteboard pen?

To explain using, again, unique Singaporean expressions, OB Markers draw the line where "sensitive" ends and "insensitive" begins; in other words, where you get into trouble. You are allowed to talk about "sensitive" issues, as long as you do not become so "insenstive" that you begin to say things you should not say. How do you know when you have strayed across the OB Markers by talking insenstively about sensitive issues? When someone in power gets upset at you of course. But if you mean before that... It is up to your own judgement not to become insensitive when talking about sensitive matters... If you are unable to judge that, you should not be talking about sensitive matters.

Now foreigners might say "someone gets upset; what's the big deal?" Well, Singapore is a company town, the headquarters of Singapore Inc, and everyone is working for the same employer; so people are anxious about being "insensitive" and would like to see all the OB Markers; unfortunately, people who determine where the markers are might prefer not to lay all their sensitivities out for others to see.

"Civic Society" was once a frequently heard expression; I even vaguely remember people organizing public seminars to discuss how to promote it. Obviously, a civic society exists and consists of many aspects; by doing something to improve a particular aspect, say public facilities for disable people, art museums, or antique car restoration, you have in some way made a contribution to "civic society", but what exactly does "promoting the concept of civic society" mean?

It is first necessary to explain that "civic society" is generally speaking not "sensitive" and does not give rise to the need for "OB Markers". If people are involved in those aspects that interest them, they cease to be apathetic; if they are involved in organizational activities, they get experience in following democratic procedures and public rules of conduct. Hence. promoting "civic society" gives people scope to learn to be good citizens without risking the crossing of OB Markers and upsetting someone with power.

I can cite two incidents to show how naive this idea was. First is the case of National Kidney Foundation. Second is the Singapore Roundtable (Now does anyone still remember it?) The first has already generated a series of lawsuits, including a current criminal case involving its former CEO and Management Board. The second simply disappeared. The first involved large sums of money from the public; its experience shows that ultimately the government has to exercise authority to manage public money. The second thought that there are meaningful things which they can discuss and organize besides power and money, and soon found that nobody, themselves included, was interested.

Since Hegel and Marx are long dead, people forget that ideas progress through thesis, antithesis and synthesis. You need antithesis to fully understand thesis and to progress through synthesis, whether you are talking about civic society or politics and money. I already forgot which Greek philosopher said "Give me pivot and I shall move the earth"; I say "give me marker and I shall show where theses end and antitheses begin".
From the same author...
Press and Blogger Bias in Singapore


Anonymous said...

OB Markers

Is it unique?
Is it Singapore's political lexicon?

More likely than not, the term was stolen from the Rules of Golf where it is defined in SECTION II(as approved by R & A Rules Limited and The United States Golf Association).

This ancient rule of golf existed long before the PAP came into being.

"Out of Bounds" is defined as going beyond the boundaries of the (golf) course so marked by the Committee.

The "out of bounds" is defined by reference to stakes or a fence including walls,railings and lines.
Note how boundaries are clearly marked.

If a ball goes OB, the golfer loses one stroke. You can go OB as many times as your lack of skill warrants. For that you will not get your golf membership or your job suspended.

The people who have hijacked this golf term OB then introduced and enforced invisible markers, come pretty close to the abuse of state power - don't you think?

Anonymous said...

>you will not get your golf membership or your job suspended.

there is no prescribed penalty for committing OB here either, but people are terrified of committing OB, so they want what's OB and what's NOB specified; isnt that pretty unique? it comes from this club being the only game in town