Has Singapore become an Orwellian state with the most emotionless people in the world?

Singapore has scored a depressing first, as having the most emotionless people in the world according to a Gallup Poll of over 140 countries. The methodology of this poll can be questioned and one should not over generalise based on a small sampling of respondents.But sadly, from the reactions to the poll by locals, it seems that many think there is some truth to this finding.

According to those who wrote to Yahoo News on their reactions to the poll, most said it is too stressful here to have time for emotions. One chap wrote on Yahoo: “We have everything, and yet we have nothing. No one in this country actually lives life to the fullest; we merely exist. To our government, we are nothing more than a statistic.”

What are the possible causes that could have brought about such a dire situation in Singapore? More likely than not it is the result of this country’s political system and education system. This is what over controlling, fear and  the relentless pursuit of economic goals can do to people of a country – it can kill the fire in their belly, it makes them cautious of being expressive, it hampers creativity and dampens spontaneity.

Indeed, one wonders if PAP has created a prime example of a modern-day Orwellian state given the many parallels that can be drawn between our country and the satirical novels written about tyranny by George Orwell. For those who have not read the books, Orwell penned the renowned Nineteen Eighty-four, a tale of a Party that imposes totalitarian rule, and Animal Farm, a satire on tyranny and equality.

The word Orwellian is an adjective describing the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past.

Sounds familiar?

We are certainly seeing the Orwellian signs in our society.  Over the decades we have lived with numerous heavy-handed measures and laws introduced by the PAP government including the failed Graduate Mothers’ scheme to social engineer graduate mums into having more babies.

Post GE2011, we have seen more Orwellian-type initiatives being introduced by the Ministry of Education under minister Heng Swee Keat.  These include aggressively pushing the Citizenship and Character Education programmes to inculcate national “values” that the government deems desirable for students from preschool to tertiary level and advocating no sex before marriage in sex education (and for teachers who teach this). A Teachers Code of Conduct is also in the works.

And just this week, the ministry announced that it will be introducing “purposeful play” at preschools for little kids because they say it just ain’t enough for play to be just play anymore. What the heck is this oxymoronic “purposeful play”? It means kids at preschools will have to play with clear objectives and KPIs in future? Pity the children who at this tender age are already swamped with enrichment classes to prepare them for primary one. MOE should really watch this heart-rending video Don’t Leave me Sunshine which depicts what a typical Singaporean 7-year-old kid has to go through nowadays to survive in our competitive society.

Is there a common thread of attempting to mould and align young Singaporeans’ thinking with the government’s doctrines through these new measures by MOE?  Are parents aware of what is happening? So much for the government saying it wants to encourage creativity and critical thinking when so many of its actions still run counter to what they say.  To really loosen up their hold on Singaporeans, they will have to have a seismic change in their mindsets. But are they able to think beyond their political party agenda and move beyond the party’s oppressive and outdated doctrines?

There are also many restrictive laws here, several of which gives the government full control over all kinds of matters from politics and elections to the mainstream media to absolute say over the people’s CPF savings. We are also living with some ridiculous laws (oral sex is illegal and so is the selling of chewing gum). And little known to many, there is a law here that says Singaporeans can be arrested if they test positive for drugs upon returning from overseas (yup, what you consume outside of the country is still the government’s business).

Technology is also being used to monitor the people. It has been announced that spy cams or CCTVs will be installed in most if not all public housing estates supposedly for anti-littering and security reasons. To put the scale in perspective, some 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing estates.  In the pilot phase, the spy cameras will be installed in seven residential areas. They will be placed at public spaces, such as lift lobbies and stairwells of public housing blocks. 

And there is the proposal to install expensive satellites to monitor and charge motorists for their road usage on this little island. Eventually, it looks like the entire island will be under Big Brother’s surveillance! Invasion of privacy? That’s the way it goes in an Orwellian world.

More eyeroll-worthy suggestions have come from none other than our Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.  He wants to involve citizens in his ministry’s anti-littering campaign. How? To put it nicely, it’s by empowering them to catch litterbugs. To put it bluntly, it is by making them spies and vigilantes of sorts.

Vivian wrote on his blog :”One key element has been the need for increased and coordinated peer pressure, including empowering volunteers…Another idea that we are studying is how to use public feedback to investigate and possibly prosecute persons who litter in public areas… We will have to explore whether this is feasible when a member of the public identifies a culprit in a public area, especially when he or she is willing to testify in court…The key theme is to empower ordinary citizens to exert more peer pressure on anti-social persons in order to protect our common spaces.”

I don’t know about him but I was brought up by my parents and teachers not to be a dishonorable snitch, not even if my classmate was very naughty. So what kind of values are our government leaders propagating and what is their real agenda for our country? Spy cams, satellite dishes for surveillance, overly controlling laws that include indefinite retention without trial, and now this proposal to groom citizen as vigilantes? Hitler would applaud such moves if he were alive I am sure.

Singapore is such a tiny island of only about 700 sq km. What are the real reasons for all these draconian controls and measures? Are they justified in such a small and democratic society (ok so we are not a real democracy)?  If our ministers, who earn the world’s highest ministerial salaries for ruling one of the smallest countries, cannot think of more humane and creative ways to manage the country and if they don’t care about the damaging social and psychological costs of their overly controlling rule, why then do they think they deserve to run our country or any country for that matter?

Add up all the incredulous laws and rules, the brainwashing national education programmes, the proposed codes of conduct for the internet and for teachers, and the ISD, etc., what do you get?  A power-obsessed authoritarian rule packaged in capitalist glitz with the democracy ribbon. Feed the people well, give them the illusion of freedom and keep them controlled, just like in Orwell’s Animal Farm. No wonder communist China is so impressed with Singapore and wants to learn about this hybrid politico-economic system from its comrades in PAP.

But many true blue Singaporeans are not impressed. We are deeply troubled by what is happening to our country. This is not the kind of future and society that we have envisioned for us and our future generations. The Orwellian society is dark and depressing and can lead to the ruin of the people and the nation’s soul. That Singapore ranks 90th in the 2012 Happy Planet Index says a lot about the current state of Singaporeans’ mind, heart and soul.

The PAP has created a living lab environment with the citizens as guinea pigs for their hybrid authoritarian-capitalist model.  And yet they dare diss the citizens as daft and lacking in competitive spirit? In so many ways, our country’s scenario is eerily similar to how the clever pigs overthrew the humans in Animal Farm in the name of freedom and then became tyrannical rulers over other animals they dismissed as less clever or daft.

As Orwell said in his Nineteen Eighty-four novel, tyrants make the rules and justify them that it is done for the greater good. And like sheep, some people will believe everything and follow blindly. Some for selfish gains, some out of naivety, some out of fear and some out of sheer loyalty (is that why so many ex-military men are placed in high ranks within the government and at GLCs?)

But we are not sheep. We are not emotionless but thinking, feeling human beings. Just so the rest of the world understands us better – not expressing our emotions doesn’t mean we are not feeling sad and angry at what this country has become. Many of us are feeling the pain and we are becoming more vocal in expressing our views and feelings. Our people are increasingly looking deeper and questioning dubious ideas espoused by our government as being for the greater good. As citizens with a stake in our homeland, we must continue challenging ideas and regulations that debase universal values, our rights and our humanity.

In the corporate world,  it is well recognised that the top bosses set the tone of the company culture. How many of us have experienced this truism in our own work experience?  Where the boss is friendly and open-minded and is someone who walks the talk, the employees are generally happier and the mood of the company is also brighter. In companies where the boss is arrogant, dismissive, narrow-minded and does not truly care about the employees, the company culture often tends to be repressive with low staff morale and poor performance.

If Singapore is Singapore Inc, and the people are supposedly emotionally deficient and unhappy, what then does it say of our top leaders?

Let’s just hope that they are not devoid of emotions as we need them to truly feel and empathise with Singaporeans’ pain, hopes and dreams for us to have a brighter future.

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4 Responses to Has Singapore become an Orwellian state with the most emotionless people in the world?

  1. ”One key element has been the need for increased and coordinated peer pressure, including empowering volunteers…”

    I wonder who are the “volunteers” and what “empowering” constitute.

    I’m a grassroots volunteer and I certainly DON’T want any empowerment from the authorities who should be doing THEIR salaried jobs in the first place. The empowerment I have is what every human is endowed with – a smile, friendly chats and comments along the line of ‘unker! Eat oreadi? Nice day hor? Aiyah. … this place very dirty hor. Wah! If only we can help each other by keeping this place clean so nice hor?’
    There’s always a more gracious, polite and friendly approach. Have we been too reliant on using authority to solve everything? No wonder Singaporeans are so emotionless.

    • i agree with you. We can all do our part for a clean Simgapore but to use us to stop littering by being vigilantes is just wrong. To think that a highly educated highly paid minister would actually propose this is shocking. Makes one wonder what kind of value system they hold in government nowadays.

  2. LinCH says:

    I wonder why you are at all surprised. I am not . For a country that proudly disdains its own languages and culture and supplants it with a colonial, and so-called international language in the name of winning advantages, it is not surprising that everything becomes profit orientated and emotionless.

    You may ask me which language which we use then. I think we should have followed our natural sense and use Mandarin and Malay concurrently. English should be the third language for those who want to learn it.

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