10 March 2006

Lessons on Constructive Criticism

Singapore's leaders are a bunch of creative people who repackage every possible concept in Democracy 101 into Orwell 1984.

Civil society is now civic society.
Bourdieu's cultural capital is now a show-me-your-money concept, thanks to Khaw Boon Wan's very short stint at the Ministry of Culture.
Welfare is now workfare (despite the fact that our workfare has nothing in common with how the rest of the world understands it).
In order to deny that 4 straight years of economic doldrums could create a Generation X, then-PM Goh popularised the term Generation M in his speeches.

And now constructive criticism is rebranded as "constructive suggestions", according to the Feedback Unit's "Feedback Pursuit" online game to teach Singaporeans how to engage with the System. This, of course, is another move to defang the increasingly bold mentality that's sprung up lately in the populace since the NKF debacle broke.

Agagooga has stronger nerves of steel than me, which explains why he's visited the site already. Great findings from him on the hidden messages of the Feedback Pursuit game:
...instead of using Critical Thinking skills so important to the New Economy in writing their Op-Eds, Catherine Lim and Cherian George should have gone to more tea sessions and participated in more feedback dialogues and written more letters to the Straits Times Forum with suggestions to the relevant authorities.

Given that the Feedback Unit is part of the Civil Service, it is exceedingly odd for the people to engage with it, rather than with the political process proper by voicing their opinions to their elected representatives; the Civil Service deals with implementation of policies, while the political process formulates them - thus, working through the civil service would presumably only tweak the implementation of said policies, rather than resulting in substantive change.

Our leaders prefer that there is no politics in Singapore; hence their happy subjects are only allowed administrative participation and not political participation, tweaking policies rather than questioning policies.

Well-meaning persons will do well to understand this next time they insist that critics of the Whiteshirts should take bigger part in the feedback process. There is no substitute for political participation, no substitute for open and free questioning of policies, no substitute for accountability of politicians to their electorates. The feedback process provides none of that.


Anonymous said...

It takes two to tango, i think. The family unit is still seen as the base unit of a society, rather than the individual. Therefore the general populance is suburbia and suburbia is interested in the dinner at the table, the water flowing the tap, children have schools, breadwinners have jobs and the other usual things that makes life comfortable. These feedback units and processes target to control the more vocal individuals. As you rightly pointed out before, the aim is to appear more democratic at the same time to deny political participation. In this environment, one must remain alert to the numerous possible machinations.

rench00 said...

i think that you are right in asking for more ways to hold our politicians accountable. but i think that it is unfair to say that Singaporeans are not able, via the already existent mechanisms, to have a significant, substantial impact on policies.

it is possible, i have seen it done first hand. though it takes a rather shrewd mind to be able to milk the current mechanisms for all its worth.

and there's more to political participation than mere questioning. it's more than just expressing a view. it is about doing something. it is about serving the people. i think that's the crux of politics. to serve the people.

so the question is, for those of us who clamour for more chances for political participation, how many of us are willing to go down, get our hands dirty and serve the people?