I recently met up with old friends over lunch and coffee. Plenty of our conversation centered around the disappointing realities of Singapore’s recent development – skyrocketing prices for housing, stagnating transport and healthcare systems, a country ill-equipped to deal with an aging population, an education system that did not seem to train what was needed for industry. In addition to our agreement of these pressing issues, our conversation also centered around why did some people, particularly the PAP and the civil servants, appear to be “out of touch” with “reality”. I then questioned the question – what did it mean to be “in touch” or “out of touch”?
I define “in touch” as (1) the perspective of being critically aware of one’s relative position in society, (2) being mindful of the relative practical conditions of our society, and (3) being acutely aware of the relative consequences of one’s actions and reactions by society at large. Note that in all three endeavors, I emphasize the word RELATIVE, as one needs to be mindful that one does not exist in a vacuum, but is instead embedded in webs of different relationships and connections to the broader society.
Hence, to be “out of touch” is to be unaware of the RELATIVITY of one’s relationship and connections with others and society, and instead, continue to insist on a certain self-rationalized narrative of the correctness of their own position.
Below, I list a few observations that I find to be interesting.
The PAP is “out of touch”: This much is obvious. After GE2011, Lee Hsien Loong’s government continues to enact minor tweaks to all matters of public policy, instead of exhibiting leadership and enacting bold policy and political reforms. I have no qualms in declaring it the worst government that we have had since independence.
The mainstream media is “out of touch”: As Alex Au has eloquently put it, the Straits Times no longer drives news stories, and the “opinions” of its journalists and editors no longer reflect the frustrations with their daily lives of the mainstream of Singaporean society. If anything, from my daily reading of the newspaper, it is consistently defending and parroting the position of the present government. One of Singapore’s founding father, the great S Rajaratnam, who was a prolific journalist in his fight against the colonial government before being a founding member of the PAP, would surely be turning in his grave.
The leadership of the Singapore Business Federation is “out of touch”: Business conditions are changing in Singapore – deal with it. In the early years of independence, businesses worked with the government and the people to provide jobs and shared symbiotic growth with the people. Now, they are just looking after their own interests. Some businesses will have to fold up and go – that much is clear. So fold up and go. It’s called economic restructuring.
Upper middle class Singaporeans are “out of touch”: Today, the Straits Times reported an interview with one of the persons involved in buying the new $2.05 million executive condominium in Tampines, asking her whether she thought it controversial that the government also implicitly subsidized the building of ECs because of the cheaper land pricing, she replied that there was nothing controversial and that they were “middle class”. Mdm, with all due respect, you are not “middle class”. You are “middle class” if your total household income is around $6,300. That’s the median household income of resident households in Singapore. These people cannot buy ECs. These people buy HDB flats. Also, it appears that your father owns several private properties as written in the newspaper report. I’m sorry. You and your family are not “middle class”.
Opposition political parties in Singapore are “out of touch”: Now, with PAP, WP, SDP, RP and SDA all interested in contesting for Michael Palmer’s vacated seat in Punggol East, it seems that the 2013 by-election will be a multi-cornered fight. This is utter stupidity. WP, SDP, RP and SDA must know that a multi-cornered fight will simply return PAP to power. They must coordinate and present one single candidate that has the best chance of garnering opposition support and can best convince the median swing voter. Your own selfish actions in pursuing a multi-cornered fight only benefits the PAP. Wake up and focus on the ultimate purpose. Learn the lesson from last year’s Presidential Election.
Cherian George is half “in touch” and half “out of touch”: This recent essay by Cherian George on his wishlist of potential reforms of the PAP has drawn plaudits from various quarters. In my heart and mind, I wholeheartedly agree with his wishlist. If the PAP enacted such reforms, I too would become a PAP fan. However, I’m also aware that such a wishlist is most probably wishful thinking. Santa Clause does not exist. In the past 1.5years since GE2011, the PAP has shown itself to be incapable of meaningful and substantive policy reforms, much less anything bordering on the political. They are only interested in entrenching their own political power. Besides, the median Singaporean voter does not care about issues such as an Ombudman’s office, a public media model, or what is “moral”. They care about housing, transport, healthcare, education, immigration and economic policies – all salient topics in the “Our Singapore Conversation” which Alex Au conveniently scoffed at.