An entire generation has been de-politicised. The next is blindly feeling its way back into politics.
When the legitimacy of the state media as a credible news source is eroded, fringe media sources, in many cases radical and rife with substandard journalism, fill in the void. Seen as representative of the vox populi with its populist but in no way realistic nor healthy ideologue, it gains an added recognition. With recognition comes legitimacy.
We all love to believe in the existence of the silent majority – the fabled foundational force of society that provides stability and a venerable check to political extremism and inordinately loud fringe groups. The silent majority in this age of who-shouts-the-loudest, precipitated by the internet, is more than just silent, but also absent. It remains a fable.
A strong society needs to be educated. Singaporeans are educated. A strong society need not be homogenous. Singapore is multi-cultural and relatively harmonious. A strong society needs to be politicised. Singapore is not.
50 years of social engineering and paranoiac state control of politics has asphyxiated civil society, political consciousness and freedom of press; and this has in turn robbed Singapore of the cushioning force of a strong society. I make no judgement on the necessity of this paranoia a generation ago, only the effects of it now in the present day.
The internet has changed things. It is a gust of oxygen reigniting a fire now out of control. With limited political exposure of a population and institutions in the community to cope with nascent political passions, it is a dangerous fire. A fire of ideology divorced from realism, a fire of nationalism, a fire suffering from Messiah complex.
When pegida marches through the streets of Dresden, thousands more anti-racist protesters spontaneously stand up across Germany. Should a pegida-style march occur in Singapore and suppose hypothetically there is a total absence of state intervention, it is unlikely that anyone will publicly stand up against it, except of course for the arts and academic community, the expats and the platitudinous grassroots officials “urging for calm and stability”.
The key word here is spontaneity. The key essence of it is how organic are the mechanisms of our society.
I worry for the future of Singapore because Singaporean society is rigid and therefore brittle. I worry for the future of Singapore because while elements of the ruling party recognise a need for stronger civil society, other elements of the civil service stick to old ways of repression and control. I worry for the future of Singapore because the voice of the arts and academic communities are being drowned out in a war of culture and narratives. I worry for the future of Singapore because the vocal middle ground seems like a minority in a demographic of die-hard radicals, die-hard pro-establishment groups and the apathetic majority.