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Fear Factor: The S'pore Edition -

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  • Sg_Review@yahoogroups.com
    http://www.stoneforest.org/others/fearfactor.html Fear Factor: The S pore Edition - Politicophobia (The Fear of Politics) By Wong Wee Nam Thursday, December
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2004

      Fear Factor: The S'pore Edition -
      Politicophobia (The Fear of Politics)
      By Wong Wee Nam
      Thursday, December 25, 2003

      They had gathered to discuss "new politics" for the renaissance city -
      some 200 of them at the Guild House on 15th December 2003.
      Obviously, these people must be very interested in the politics of
      Singapore or they would not have spent a Saturday morning
      participating in such a forum.

      One would expect that, in a gathering of this kind, the fear of
      reprisals would be far from the minds of those who had attended.

      But no, the question of fear became a focal point of debate.

      The Today newspaper that covered the forum aptly described this
      situation as "sad and ironic"

      The debate was sparked off after a young lady said she had dropped
      off the idea of starting a socio-political discussion website for
      fear that something might happen to her.

      This prompted one speaker at the forum, Dr. Kwok Kian Choo to
      ask, "How have we arrived at such a miserable, pathetic situation?"

      The answer is very simple. In the limbic system of our brain there is
      a complex known as the amygdala. At a subconscious level, it controls
      our fear factor. According to our circumstances and experience it
      determines whether we fight, submit or run away.

      This fear factor is reinforced whenever a person encounters an
      unfavourable stimulus. The threat may be physical, mental, economic
      or social. As long as the person deemed it a possible harm to his
      well-being, he will try to avoid that situation. This is a very basic
      survival instinct.

      Fear of political reprisals is, therefore, not just a matter of
      perception. It is a physiological and psychological reality. It is a
      gut response that drives us into a lot of negative thoughts and
      causes us to react negatively. It is an "if so-and-so can get into
      trouble, so can I" kind of thinking. This is a kind of self-
      preservation mechanism. For this reason, it is not difficult to see
      why politics is avoided by most Singaporeans.

      The danger of the threat of reprisals may have been exaggerated, but
      Singaporeans cannot be faulted for their fears. Over the years, the
      amygdala of Singaporeans has been unfavourably stimulated enough by
      the ISD's arrests, the closure of unions, the folding up of
      newspapers and the defamation suits brought against opposition
      figures as to make this fear understandable.

      There is a saying in Chapter 53 of a Chinese classic
      entitled "Revealing Original Shape in Officialdom" that states: There
      is a wise old adage that says, `Kill the chicken in order to frighten
      the monkey. If the chicken is killed, the monkey will certainly be

      In Singapore, enough political cocks of the walk have been
      figuratively "killed" to turn any monkey into a chicken.

      There is another reason why we have reached the "miserable and
      pathetic" situation where people are afraid to speak their mind and
      politics is shunned. This is related to the stage of our moral

      In pre-historic times, people react to fear by clubbing to death the
      threatening animal. In a more developed society, people are more
      civilised and the threats are different. The threats may come in the
      form of a policy that threatens a livelihood, a way of life or a
      property or where an act may threaten the principle of justice and
      equality or any democratic principles. The civilised reaction, in a
      modern fully-developed democracy, is to shout and protest until the
      threat is resolved.

      In Singapore, however, we have not been able to reach the stage of a
      full-fledged democracy because the fear factor is so great that all
      our frustrations and angers have become internalised into helpless
      whimpers. It is no wonder that grumbling has become a national

      Singapore may a country with first world physical infrastructure but
      our people have yet to reach the stage of moral development that
      other fully-developed modern democracies have attained. We are still
      at the level where we are pre-occupied with chasing after food,
      shelter and other material needs. Abstract things like justice,
      democracy and equality, principles and good of society are too far
      from the minds of Singaporeans.

      As long as the people are conditioned to live life at this basic
      material level, the fear factor is easily reinforced. It is not
      surprising that when voters were threatened with the withholding of
      upgrading, they fell in line. Tell people not to vote for more
      opposition or the investors will run away and the people will listen.
      Give them a bit of shares and the people will be grateful. As long as
      the basic needs are provided for, there is no danger of any silent
      grumble becoming loud noise.

      It is easy to tell a person that his fear is irrational but it is
      difficult to convince him otherwise. This is because people's
      perception differs greatly to the extent that one man's danger may
      not be another man's threat. Different people have different
      psychological make-up, life experiences and grow up under different
      circumstances. Hence, their perception and assessment of threat vary
      accordingly. For this reason one can never help a person overcome his
      fear by to telling him to think and act rationally.

      In the morning after the 1997 General Elections, I received a call
      from a person who identified himself as a first time young voter. He
      was a successful young professional with his own business. With a
      distraught voice, he told me that he and his wife had entered the
      polling station with the intention of voting for me. However, when
      they saw the serial number on the ballot paper, they panicked and
      changed their minds. He asked me to get the government to remove the
      serial numbers on the ballot papers.

      I told him the serial numbers were meant to prevent cheating. He was
      not convinced and stuck to his belief that it could be used to trace
      voters. I asked him why a government would want to retaliate against
      the thousands of ordinary voters when they could just take action
      against me. He was still not convinced. This is really sad and
      ironic. An intelligent, well-educated person, already trained in the
      army to face bullets was being driven by fear to think irrationally
      and to be afraid of serial numbers.

      The only way to help Singaporeans overcome the fear of politics is
      through modelling. When the people can see that a lot of people are
      not harmed by getting involved in politics, then they may assess the
      situation and grow out of their fear. The question is: Do we have
      enough role models?

      It is no use for 200 academics, activists, undergraduates and others
      to lament to each other about the pathetic state of Singapore
      politics. There is no point telling each other within their small
      intellectual circle not to be afraid of reprisals and hope the rest
      of Singapore will change. If they want Singaporeans to be less
      apathetic and break out from the bonds of crippling fear, then they
      themselves must set the example by participating at the highest level
      of politics to demonstrate that there is nothing to be afraid of.

      No Singaporean is going to be convinced that involvement in the
      public affairs of the country is safe if our so-called "best and
      brightest" shun the highest level of politics. If the people who
      say, "Don't give excuse, nothing will happen to you" are themselves
      unwilling to demonstrate their belief with action, we can only
      conclude that, like all Singaporeans, they are just hoping for others
      to do the job. The overwhelming walkovers at every general election
      merely reinforce the attitude that politics in Singapore is something
      to be shunned. The highest level of politics is where modelling is
      most effective.

      Dr. Kwok also lamented, "What will our leaders think if they know
      that our best and brightest have become like this?" Does anyone
      seriously think that this is a problem that our leaders will lose
      plenty of sleep over?

      Fear has created an unhealthy political climate in Singapore and vice
      versa. When a person fears, he can only think of himself. He would be
      incapable of loving, of thinking about others, about society and
      about principles. In other word he would not be capable of loving the

      Mark Twain said, "Who, then is the country? In a republic it is the
      common voice of the people."

      With too much fear, there is not going to be a common voice of the
      people. Without a common voice of the people, is there a country?
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