[Editor's note: Cross-posted on e pur si muove.]
BLOGOSPHERE: Instead of harping on what Singaporeans can do to bridge the Great Affective Divide, the spotlight in the Topicless Community in recent posts fell on civil servants. And there were some clichés used, too.
"Obsessed with OB markers" and "having selective hearing" were among the sadder - and harsher - labels mentioned. Blogger Alex Au on his blog Yawning Bread started the ball rolling when he wrote "Almost everyone with a political view has critical opinions about the state of politics here, but they have very low expectations that they will be heard should they speak up. Nothing will change, many say, with a tone of either resignation or disgust. It's like shouting across a ravine to the government on the other side and getting no response. Not even an echo comes back [... Ministers] their ears for the feedback that they want to hear, but instead get none. Not even an echo comes back.
(It's not that [some people are silent], but what they say in response is seldom what the government wants to hear. Since the government's ear filters out what their brains don't want to hear, they end up hearing nothing at all.)"
Blogger Xenoboy noted that top civil servants have become increasingly1 reliant on an efficient system that confounds issues on the municipal and national level. The Government has until very recently completely ignored the ramifications of technological improvements such as blogs, having previously dismissed them pejoratively as "idle Internet chatter"; even as recently as two weeks ago, MP Wee Siew Kim demonstrated a lack of understanding of how the blogosphere works by describing his daughter's blog as "private" whose "privacy ha[d] been violated". Wrote Xenoboy, "Despite the attempt at Babel by WSM and her father, the common language of Singaporeans shone through clearly, refusing to be confounded, to be confused."
While not advocating that the citzenry be taken out of the "equation", this blogger hopes to see that the "responsibility to make the2 society work rests not only on the Singaporeans dutifully attending to their daily lives", but also on "the collective interlocking bureaucracy of the Singapore government". For example, the Government should reflect on what they, and not the citizens, had done to strengthen resilience within their own policies, without continually pointing fingers at the common citizen, accusing them of political apathy, without thinking about how systematically they have disenfranchised the voice of the body politic by their selective hearing and selective eyesight.
Blogger AcidFlask called on the Government to be more gracious and compassionate and said the Government is fast becoming a myopic, deaf bureaucracy immune to criticism. While Singaporeans can set the tone, he urged the Government to schedule itself for ophthalmological and audiological examinations.
Even some Members of Parliament appear to agree with the general sentiment espoused by bloggers. A recent TODAY article quoted MP for Marine Parade GRC Lim Biow Chuan as saying ' "What makes a country great? It is not just the laws … the efficiency or the beautiful buildings but the people that make it great" '. Another TODAY article reported that Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Michael Palmer has received some ' "hard-hitting" comments on Singapore. One blogger he quoted felt the Government "doesn't really listen to us anyway" and gave "patronising replies" on online forums [...] "I believe the P-65 generation are … willing to speak up and be engaged… Are we ready to hear them?"
MP Baey Yam Keng also spoke in Parliament, voicing his opinion that3:
[The] New media’s impact on the young, to say the least, has been massive.Blogger Molly Meek urged the Government and Singaporeans to live in an environment where "people can run their own race"; she commented on how the Government appears to be living in a different country from most Singaporeans and lamented on how her personal experiences didn't matter as much as official statistics.
Compared to traditional media, new media is much less structured; it is more informal and also more difficult to control. It is a virtual world with its own parameters, rules and regulations [...] It is a force to be reckoned with and most people in the developed world cannot envision a future without it. We are beginning to see its social, political and economic powers.
The differences between new media and traditional media call for different treatments from the authorities. We can allow different platforms for responsible and less responsible expression of views[...] The government should not and cannot hold itself responsible for what the people see or read. Otherwise, Singaporeans risk losing the ability to think, evaluate and judge for themselves. The Mr Brown incident illustrates too clearly how new and old media could have engaged each other better. Having driven negative comments or untrue information about the government underground, into the labyrinth of virtual space, the government loses an opportunity to engage the propagators and dispel the erroneous statements.
As I read comments in the newspapers and compare them with those in blogs and online forums, I sometimes wonder if they are from two different populations talking about two different countries. I do not think that the reality is mostly positive like in the traditional media or like what the new media is portraying, mostly negative and critical[...]
We have to accept that it will be very difficult, in fact, impossible to monitor and rebut all negative online comments against the government. We should also consider relaxing regulations on traditional media to allow people to vent grouses and frustrations, without always demanding for constructive suggestions. Singaporeans can then engage openly in meaningful, level-headed discussions without fear of prosecution. Erroneous assumptions, wrong ideas, narrow mindsets, prejudices and biases, loyalties, tolerance and wisdom can all be brought to the light of day and seen clearly for what they are. I believe in the Singaporean’s ability to discern wisely. Even if we may not be able to do so accurately, that is our judgment and that judgment should be given the opportunity to be sharpened. "
This blogger concurs. Using the example of the non-infantile blogosphere, the mutual discussion of national issues through cross-referenced postings, trackbacks and aggregators encourages lively debate and provides a framework that allows a consensus opinion to emerge, which may facilitate the Government's ability to see and hear what public opinions are like. Likewise, should the Government be in the position to require corrective surgery from any potential diagnosis of myopia and/or deafness, the Government should make a speedy post-operative recovery, in the hope that such possible corrective surgery would make "the transition to being able to see and hear Singaporeans much more clearly much better" for the Government.
1. Pedants may note the incorrect non-use of an adverb in the original article.
3. CNA has a digital video recording of MP Baey's speech here.