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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Messiah

For a while the internet was abuzz with chatter about the exploits of The Messiah. A frisson worthy video appeared warning the Singapore government of impending cyber attacks on government websites. I wondered at that time if this was the work of an organisation, or of disparate individuals. It appeared for a while that it was the work of a global organisation called "Anonymous". It now appears that individuals are responsible.

Many netizens jubilated at this act of civil disobedience. They cheered the courage of these who stood up and took action. The jeered at the responses of our government. I think most people don't realise that organised crime grew out of such civic disobedience. Every single criminal organisation the world over had its origins in anti-government movements.

The Origins of the Mafia
A reference to Sicilian mafia groups date back to 1838. In the old feudalistic structure, the nobility owned land and also took charge of maintaining order. As the country transited out of feudalism, land ownership devolved to the rich (but non-noble) people. These didn't see it as their responsibility to maintain order, as they had never been part of the government as the nobles had been. It became the job of the elected democratic state to maintain law and order. The new state had no resources to do so. At one point, on the island of Sicily, there were only 350 policemen. Many towns and villages on the island of Sicily had no permanent police force. This allowed all sorts of malfaiteurs (both noble and common) to get away with much that was UNjust. Men formed themselves into fraternities of "men of honour". These "men of honour" provided protection to common folk. See HERE. To this day, the mafioso call themselves "men of honour".

The Origins of the Yakuza
Yakuza history traces its origins to the Tokugawa era, the time of the shogunate, when Ieyasu Tokugawa unified the country of Japan. Japan had come a long way from its period of civil war, but was not yet a stable nation. The newfound era of peace left as many as 500,000 samurai left unemployed. There were not enough jobs to support their number. Many of these samurai joined the merchant class, but those who didn't - the ronin - had to find other means of support. Many turned to thievery and criminal methods to support themselves. It is in defense against these wandering samurai that the machi-yokku, or servants of the town, originated. These folk heroes were regular townsfolk who stood up in defense against the destructive ronin to protect the well being of their families and town. Like gangs of today, they were tightly knit and spent their free time gambling. These folk heroes are the predecessors of the modern day yakuza, and while the connection may lie in legend only, the machi-yokku play a large role in the romantic image that the yakuza gangster holds today. See HERE.

The Origins of the Triads
This author documents HERE that triads started as a mutual aid brotherhood in 1761, again in response to the government's inability to provide protection to the common people.

The Beast You Feed Will Turn On You
When organisations which operate outside of the law, develop, the day will come when such organisations become criminal. That has been the case for the mafia, the yakuza and the triads. Undoubtedly, these organisations' "the ends justify the means" attitude served the interests of weaker people at the start. Over time, this shadow government evolves to devour the very people it was created to protect. They start off by using extreme and violent methods to strike back at unjust or weak authority - a sort of Robin Hood. Such methods continue to define such organisations even when the need for violence and extremism is long past.

Civilised Country
Thanks to Lee Kuan Yew's leadership, we live in a country where the rule of law is enforced. There are some who believe that current laws exploit the weak. By all means fight in the open to get these laws changed. History is replete with courageous men who stood up in parliament and CHANGED laws. Clement Attlee thought that people such as Earl Fitzwilliam legally exploited the coal mine workers. He fought to legislate the nationalisation of the coal industry so as to stop the exploitation of coal miners. Thaddeus Stevens spoke up against black slavery and was a major force behind Abraham Lincoln's 13th amendment.

Legal Exploitation of the Disadvantaged is Not New
History shows that the legal exploitation of the weak and disadvantaged is not new. In the feudalistic system, the nobility exploited the serfs LEGALLY. In the colonial system, the colonial masters exploited the colonies LEGALLY. In the days before the 13th Amendment, white men exploited black slaves, LEGALLY. In the present, big business exploits the every day salary man, also LEGALLY. World domination has taken on a whole new meaning. Again and again, within a democratic parliamentary process people have stood up and fought legal exploitation... and made it illegal.

Some might think that the CPF is a way of exploiting Singaporeans. Others might think that the ERP is a way of legally exploiting Singaporeans. Then there are those who might think that the government's stranglehold on business through Temasek Holdings is another way to exploit Singaporeans. Stand up in the open and engage in robust public debate with your face uncovered to challenge such legal exploitation. Get those laws changed. Vote out those who seek to propagate such methods of legal exploitation.

The last thing we should do is to cheer on and support methods of civic disobedience that look very uncomfortably like mafia/yakuza/triad arm twisting. These methods, once entrenched, will be used to hurt us next. The beast WILL turn on you. It's not a question of "IF" but a question of "WHEN".

I am quite relieved that things aren't quite so bad in Singapore that honourable men feel compelled to band together to form a shadow government. I am relieved that the perpetrators of the hacking were individuals only. I do believe though that if our government continues to break trust with the populace, then intelligent and upright men may find it their moral duty to fight from the other side.

Breaking Trust
One way in which our government continues to break trust with the populace is in its easy trust of civil servant assurances. It is clear that our politicians rely on their civil servants to know the extent of the hacking. If these are too afraid to say the truth... or these are more keen to "cover their own... errr... back****" than to support the politicians in their work in caring for Singaporeans then it leads to...

(1) The government making claims that tuition is not needed in Singapore. Parents across the country raised their eyebrows in incredulity. So hmmmm... who speaks truth?

(2) The government claiming that their websites were not hacked... it was Google's fault. Presently, Google claims that there was no weakness on THEIR side. So hmmmm... who speaks the truth?

(3) The government claiming "ponding" instead of "flooding". Clearly someone thought a change in vocabulary could downplay ineffectiveness.

I don't think our country is so exploitative, repressive or weak that good men with the best brains will form a shadow government, but I do wish our politicians were a little more nuanced (or sceptical) in pronouncing (or accepting) "truths" fed to them by their civil servant subordinates.

Triangulation is a good way to confirm information. Different parties with opposing vested interests can be asked their opinion. If they all concur on a fact then it's true.  More often than not each party provides a partial truth and triangulation allows a richer appreciation of an issue.

Diminishing Its Circle of Influence
I'm not sure the government realises that in trying to convince citizens to take on a larger part of social responsibility (so that the government can do less), it'll slowly diminish its own circle of influence.

People develop a loyalty to those whom they view are able to care for them.

Leaving civic and social space empty invites the development of organisations which are more than willing to take on the mantle of people's protector. There were those who imported face masks and gave them away during the 2013 Haze... all whilst bemoaning that since the government did nothing, other people had to step up.

If such organisations are the open and legitimate ones like the Worker's Party, various churches and self-help groups, then it's all good. Or, if they are clandestine but disparate individuals with loose social ties (like The Messiah and his friends), then it's also all good. If, however, these "protector" organisations are clandestine and bound into a tight social unit, united in a single mission... possessing of strong common values, AND are anti-government... then Petunia is terrified.

I hope that there will be no social catalyst nor vacuum left in our country for such organisations to fill. It really is a very frightening thought.

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