On July 10, a letter which spoke about the role of Gen Z voters in the recent elections, was posted on The Straits Times forum. Written by Mr Brent Lim Zi Jian, he wrote on how he felt that Gen Z voters claim to want greater contestation of ideas in parliament, but “the way many of them behaved during the election period did not really support that claim.”
He pointed out to Social Media, where the thoughts of most youths are expressed on. In essence, he felt that what he saw on social media was a reflection of how the youth of today are quick to denounce opposing viewpoints.
More than just denouncing, Mr Lim wrote: “It is an approach that demonises those that hold opposing viewpoints, and is entirely contrary to the desire for a greater contest of ideas.
This style of politics, characterised by a complete rejection of any opposing views and placing labels such as “bigot” or “boomer” on those who hold such views, seems inspired by far-left liberal values in the United States. This approach, unfortunately, seems to be in vogue in many parts of the world today.”
I do think that there are valid points made here, but I do respectfully disagree with Mr Lim on several points.
Young People do not vote for Opposition solely because it is “vogue”
To me, this comment seems rather condescending of the youth in Singapore. It paints us an uncritical and unthinking bunch, who are so easily swayed by the trends of today and what we see online.
For the older generation, the decision on which party to vote for might come a lot easier for you. You’ve had the privilege to see what has been done all these years in Singapore, what are the pros and cons for both the ruling party and the Opposition members.
This is not so easy for Gen Z voters, especially those who voted for the first time like myself. Some of us may have been following politics for a few years, others have only decided to delve into the political scene as the elections dawned. Whatever it is, it is clear that we do not have the same privilege of having seen what the ruling party and Opposition have done for decades as the older generation do.
Speaking for myself now, being bestowed the opportunity to vote has compelled me to be much more engaged in Singapore politics. This does not just mean finding the gaps and failures of the ruling party. It means finding out what the PAP has done well for the country, what ideas the Opposition parties have to offer, envisioning the Singapore I wish to see in the next few years and the future and more.
It’s not as straightforward as voting the PAP just because they have been a strong party since independence or voting the Opposition just because we want to show that we are anti-establishment. Mr Lim’s framing that Youths are automatically inclined to vote for opposition is simply false.
For any other youths out there like myself, I would like to believe that they too have done the due diligence to think about these issues before casting their vote. Afterall, it is clear that we are truly the future of Singapore and we do play an important role in defining the Singapore we want to see.
Do not overgeneralise
I do agree with Mr Lim that there are Youths who may express themselves rather aggressively online, to the point that they are completely denouncing the older generation. I too agree that the “ok, boomer” response reflects immaturity and impede fruitful political discussion that is necessary for the betterment of society. This is something I do not approve of as well. But it is important to not be caught up with such responses and neglect all other opinions from the Youth that go beyond “ok, boomer”.
Not to mention, we also see members of the older generation who are equally vocal and aggressive about their political views online – be it pro-PAP or pro-Opposition. In fact, many have also openly denounced the views of the Youth, to the same extent and intensity as the other way around. Of course, they may not use the same phrasing, but the intent and messaging is clear – some examples being that the youth are ignorant, they do not know any better and such.
Why then are we the only ones being demonised as a collective whole here (given that both old and young have the same propensity to be demonized and be the demonizer)? Is it because we are seen as rebelling against the opinions of our elders, something that one could argue that our Asian Values do not condone?
Not all of us use the “boomer” response as a way to deal with opposing views. Many have gone into detail online on what we feel towards several issues, utilising examples from history and so on. Do not discount the effort that many young voters have put in to justify their views.
I do think that denouncing the youth for being vocal about their political opinions is especially detrimental for society, mainly because for the longest time, we have been accused of being politically apathetic. This is often described of as dangerous to society, that it creates an ignorant society that impedes progress.
To share our own views only to get beat down by the older generation, will make true the adverse consequences of an apathetic society.
Side note: I also think it is problematic to simply consider youths being “vocal” as an effect of being influenced by western far-left liberals. Does this apply to the equally vocal older generation as well?
Ensuring healthy debate
Mr Lim is right in that we should do our best to ensure that Singaporeans do not cultivate a culture where we demonise opposing ideas. But this goes beyond just the Youth.
Just as we accommodate pro-establishment views, we should also be accommodating the other end of the spectrum, especially if Singaporeans believe in having “alternative voices” in our government. This is vital so that Singaporeans are able to look at various perspectives, form their own understandings and then rationally form their own conclusions
This duality can indeed be potentially dangerous for Singapore, where we may face the conflicts that liberal societies such as the USA face (Conservatives vs Liberal).
While we accommodate both ends of the spectrum, what is more important is how we discuss these ends of the spectrums, and everything else in between. It is vital that debates, not arguments, ensue.
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