This column was contributed by a guest author and the views contained herein do not represent the views of The Independent Singapore.
By Cheryl Marie Tay
My political involvement has given me opportunities to engage in interesting discourse with all manner of people. Not surprisingly, the most eye-opening and enriching exchanges occur when I interact with politically and socially aware individuals who are open to new ideas.
On the other hand, conversations with die-hard loyalists — regardless of which party they support — tend to go south fairly quickly, always hitting a dead end and necessitating a change of subject to the non-political.
My observations suggest that such unshakeable loyalism to one party, despite increasingly frequent missteps on its part, stem from the following factors:
Fear. Be it fear of change, fear of dire consequences should they fail to vote for the ruling party, or fear that no one else can govern the country, fear is a powerful tool that has long been harnessed by regimes to keep themselves on top. The PAP has often cast doubt over the efforts of opposition parties, and implied that in return for not voting for the PAP, opposition wards will inevitably turn into slums.Even in corporate or volunteer organizations, fear of harsh “disciplinary action” often leads to employees and volunteers being reduced to mere “yes” men and women, afraid of speaking up and affecting change.
Vested interest. As recently as May this year, Singapore was listed as the world’s richest country; its current GDP per capita stands at US$51,709 (S$63,908). However, Singapore’s income inequality is among the world’s highest, while its Prime Minister is the world’s most highly paid politician, with a US$2.2 million (S$2.7 million) annual salary (more details here).
Much of the country’s wealth is channelled into the government’s investment company, Temasek Holdings, as well as its sovereign wealth fund, GIC Pte Ltd, for a laundry list of major investments. Hence, local investors and business owners involved in such deals may believe that they stand to lose much, should they oppose government practices or policies they may deem questionable.
Overindulgence in nostalgia. I’ve met my fair share of Singaporean baby boomers, who, still misty-eyed over the bygone era during which the PAP helped Singapore prosper, revere Lee Kuan Yew as if he were a god and, by extension, vote for the PAP at every single election.
Though there is no denying the PAP’s instrumental role in Singapore’s success, we must give credit where it is due. Case in point: Albert Winsemius, who, incidentally, was never mentioned in my history books.
The PAP has gotten so comfortable in its seat of power, it seems its top priority now is to stay in power and further expand its already overflowing coffers. Yet so many citizens seem content to live in the past, even if it means limited access to proper healthcare, affordable public housing and their own CPF money.
Mob righteousness. Mob mentality and self-righteousness are not limited to the ruling party. The prevalence of partisan politics is testament to this condition. The correct application of resources can make a party of like-minded individuals a force to be reckoned with. But groupthink can creep in and infect the inattentive, luring them into a false sense of superiority or even infallibility. The result is polarization: each party believes its cause and methods to be unparalleled and so seeks to further its own agenda, as opposed to engaging in intelligent debate with other parties. This in turn kills any potential for progress, causing society to be stranded in an endless loop of compounding problems.
The above scenario is a familiar one — while Singapore has progressed economically, it has regressed socially and politically. Little has improved not just because of the PAP and its staunch loyalists, but also because the opposition parties’ puzzling dependence on partisan politics undermines any credibility they may possess.
Even within a party, all it takes is one unit to believe itself superior to those outside its inner circle and therefore, to reject alternative views. Combined with a God complex, groupthink breeds blind loyalism. Left to fester, it often results in people — and sometimes, entire parties — losing sight of their original purpose.
The antithesis of blind loyalism isn’t the absence of loyalty, however. Rather, it is the careful selection of who — or what — is worthy of one’s allegiance. We humans can switch loyalties at the drop of a hat and betray those who trust us, all in the interest of self. For this reason, it is infinitely better to dedicate oneself to a cause, instead of a personality or a party.
Many of us form alliances with those who share our vision, hoping to work towards the greater good of our society and nation. Personal relationships should never prompt us to neglect our primary purpose. Ideological differences do not necessarily eradicate the chances of friendship, but adhering to a worthy cause can mean distancing oneself from a close friend.
It’s nice to be accepted as part of a community, to feel included and to enjoy a certain level of exclusivity. However, being agreeable does not bring about change. We must know when to stand in solidarity with our fellow man, when to disagree, when to walk away and most importantly, not to be too concerned about the opinions of those who attempt to dissuade us with their own inherent fear.
We must understand that ideas are more than the men who inspire or endorse them. Poster children don’t stay pretty (or alive) forever, but the brilliance of their creations should never be dismissed. Long after Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi have passed on, freedom and civil rights are still being advocated throughout the world, proving that it is not the man but his ideals that demand continuous commitment from those who wish to affect change and encourage progress.
As V said to Peter Creedy: “Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”