04 June 2007

גם זה יעבור

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

Foucault's discourse theory places primacy on the zero point, the beginning point where a certain mode of discourse shaped from that time on how we see the world, describe it, and picture ourselves in it - such that we can scarcely think of any other way to see the world, describe it... that it appears as though from time immemorial we have always been seeing the world this way... naturally.

As an illustration, it is little known that "kiasuism" was coined in the late 1980s during a speech where a MINDEF general made fun of the go-getter characteristics of some soldiers in BMT. What is known is that since that zero point, that word grew to encompass and define everything that is Singaporean, that it is impossible to think of Singaporeans never being kiasu before - isn't it obvious they have always been in this state?

Hence, the Foucauldian project's obsession with zero points, with historical breaks that demonstrate that certain paradigms of thought, of social perception, weren't always so, and should never be taken as natural or commonsensical.

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

Obsessed with beginnings, the Foucauldian project forgets that there are endings, that dominant modes eventually fall away; that, if certain social, political conditions, or a set of accidents could lead to a dominance in one form of discourse, that dominant discourse could very well pass away due to certain accidents - social or political. To gain a full understanding of political discourse, we must shift our focus from the zero point at its inception, and look to - and look forward to - the other zero point at its passing.

I'm going to build a list of political phrases that have fallen out of fashion in Singapore. These are well-turned phrases of closing off discourse, whose time have passed. It is important to remember, for those live in a city whose political nature seems unchanging, that seemingly unchallenge-able rhetoric have sell-by dates. After all, you can't use the same threats as people become more mature. Simply put, if the rhetoric is out of step with the populace, or too nonsensical, they will just make fun of it or even refuse point blank to accept such arguments - and hence such rhetoric is dropped from public discourse. From zero point to zero point, as it were.

The death of politicised phrases

Quitters vs Stayers
Died because: too many ministers had children who have settled permanently out of Singapore, including Goh Chok Tong's daughter.

Foreign talent
Died because: too many Singaporeans now realise it's just a disguise for foreign labour import substitution - even foreign labour and development specialists like Stephen Appold insist the foreign talent here "are not needed in the large number in which they are found".

Asian values
Died because: the Asian economic crisis of 1997 happened.

Unconstructive criticism
Died because: logically speaking I don't have to tell you to zip up your pants to point out that your fly is undone.

Boh Tua Boh Suay
Died because: no one agrees with George Yeo that criticising the leadership is tantamount to disrespecting the leaders. No one agrees with George Yeo that there is a natural hierarchy of order.

Helicopter vision
Died because: ministers in the Minilee cabinet were seen more as bumbling fools and incompetents making "honest mistakes" than infallible supermen.

OB Markers
Died because: fewer and fewer people believe that the government has the right to make up rules, stop discussions in their tracks arbitrarily, and issue red cards out of its ass.

And now, this too shall pass

This weekend, theonlinecitizen has released the full Attorney General's report (available in 4 parts) on its audit of over 12 ministries and statutory boards.

As the Blogger Samurai points out, the first lesson of political blogging is never attack in anger. Instead, we must use this unfortunate incident, this embarrassing report, to put to an end a particular dominant mode of thinking - that, for the sake of national competitiveness, ministries and statutory boards need not be subject to full transparency, oversight, and accountability to the public taxpayers. Instead of shrilling corruption and other accusations on the ministries, playing "Aha!" games with them, or like some political illiterates who conflate the ministries, the civil service, the government and the ruling party as a single entity, I suggest that the path of action for Singaporeans is clear, simple, and shrill-free.

It is time for us to reject, point blank, any future rhetoric designed to protect the operations of ministries and statutory boards from accountability and oversight. It is time for us to decisively and loudly remind our leaders that certain arguments just don't work anymore, and have lost their persuasive power. Softly but firmly insist "I don't buy your argument", and you shall see yet another political death, another political, politicised discourse fade into zero point.

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass


Anonymous said...

so i am a political illiterate? that is an interesting view.

I am not here to wage an angry attack - in fact i do want to keep this civil. Well, my point of view is: right now, they are all one entity. If there is a way to make them independent, i would very much follow it, but as of now, they are all one body.

It's what keeps Singapore efficient, but what keeps the people blind.

P.S. do you know how to input hebrew characters?

Anonymous said...

And do pray tell what makes me political illiterate and you politically literate. Must self-improve, mah.

akikonomu said...

Guojun, that's a fair question, to which I'll respond with the minimum of snark, testiness, or sarcasm.

Imaginary scenario 1: Cabinet minister says explicitly that PAP is Singapore. Or conflates the ruling party with the cabinet, the civil service, the ministries and stat boards with the nation.

What would be the response of current-day readers and political bloggers? Nothing but derision, probably - the conflation of government discourse is designed to keep citizens politically illiterate, to keep them seeing the state as one monolithic entity that is all owned by the ruling party, to keep them from knowing how state governance works and hence robbing them from the ability to know who to shoot or go to when things go wrong.

Imaginary scenario 2: An angry anti-establishment blogger blames the PAP and the government for lapses in governance in the bureaucracy.

From the AGO report, it's possible to conclude that:

1. low level ministry employees took advantage of red tape and gaps in procedures for what turned out to be improper usage of public monies

2. some procedures were badly designed, and created loopholes that could not be remedied easily

3. at the process level, apparently low and mid level ministry people have no idea how to look out for signs of wastage, improper dealings, and flawed procedures

All these - I'd rather blame on corporate and institutional blindness than on their political masters, because the set of remedies for institutional blindness would be far more effective for solving the problems raised in the AGO report than any change in ruling party.