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Monday, June 27, 2016


Claire Chung and I had the same reaction to this article from The Guardian - The Dispossessed Voted For Brexit. The only difference is that Claire Chung expressed it better than I could.

After reading The Guardian's piece, I read the piece by Tharman Shanmuguratnam. I cannot seem to paste the link so I have copied it herein below.

In essence, both Claire Chung and Tharman Shanmuguratnam say the same thing in different words. When pushed beyond their endurance, those Singaporeans who do not get to share in the benefits of globalisation will vote so that no one wins (including themselves).

It becomes a sort of class war. In war, people are prepared to get themselves hurt in order to hurt another. People risk their lives in order to kill others. In the Brexit vote and the 2011 voter backlash against the PAP, the dispossessed in Britain and in Singapore were prepared to hurt their own livelihoods in order to hurt those who have benefited greatly from the influx of immigrants. The voter mentality in 2011 was clearly, "I am already suffering. Let me stir shit around and everyone will suffer together. There will be a period of change and uncertainty. However, when the chips fall again, they may fall in my favour."

I think Singapore is so blessed. 

2011 could have been our version of a Brexit thanks to an entire generation of Ministers who (for years and years) bent to the will of the top civil servants. 2015 could also have been our version of a Brexit but for the fact that we do have very high calibre men and women in cabinet (and in the Workers' Party) today. After 2011, a new cabinet worked hard and showed an ability to bridge the gap between the voters and the Civil Service. Hence, when it came to 2015's G.E., people were already starting to feel cared for and understood.

Globally, why do Politicians and Civil Servants Tend to be Out of Touch With the Dispossessed?
Firstly, people like Jo Cox and David Cameron are of a vastly different socio-economic class than the dispossessed. They see the macro view but cannot FEEL the desperation of the dispossessed. Top politicians and top civil servants are not ordinary. If they were, they would not be in those echelons of their careers.

Rich people shop at classy supermarkets where new immigrants never go. Ordinary people shop at Shop and Save where a loud-mouthed PRC woman literally pushed my trolley out of the queue and replaced with hers. Rich people relax at country clubs where new immigrants go to mow the golf course and wash the toilets. Ordinary people relax in the country's public parks where new immigrants also relax, but differently. Rich people drive. Ordinary people MUST take public transport along with new immigrants.

I sometimes do my groceries at Shop and Save. I get irritated by these rude and aggressive PRC aunties who seem to think I am invisible. I have stopped going to Pasir Ris Park because it is now crowded with non-Singaporeans who do not respect the park. I have long stopped going to the public swimming pool ever since I saw a PRC father encourage his son to stand and pee into the pool. I was even irritated by a clearly PRC-imported payment system at a food court at Changi Airport. I had to go and top up my card before I could pay the different hawkers for the food. One day, I squatted down to examine the petals of some fallen flowers at the park, only to be rudely yelled at because a Singaporean cleaner thought I was squatting down to take dump right under the tree! The poor cleaner must have had to clear up excrement from under a tree in the past. 

By now, I have developed an intense irritation for these immigrants who do not possess the same social habits as I do. 

They come here. They benefit from our education system. They take our generous overseas and local scholarships and at the first chance they get (I speak from personal experience), they want to leave to go to the United States even before their bond is served. Clearly, if you evolve in a different socio-economic class and go to different public spaces in Singapore, you won't feel this irritation. Clearly, if you do not need a scholarship to get through university (here or abroad), then you would not also feel this irritation.

The top civil servants that dictate policy do not feel this irritation. In their leisure and for their work, they do not have the same interactions with the new immigrants and do not frequent the same spaces as these new immigrants. Politicians who bend to the will of the civil servants also feel nothing, unless they have been walking the ground with empathy... which (thankfully) they have been doing  in Singapore for quite a while now.

Hence, top civil servants and politicians make decisions and form their perspectives from the trade data that they are educated enough to understand. The daily social interactions with irritating new people who are aggressive and grasping to the point of ruthlessness and callousness are not part of Jo Cox and David Cameron's experience. Arguing to Remain because of what the trade data says is not wrong. However, the heart rules decision-making as much as the head. It is no use saying that those who voted Leave were stupid and could not understand the bigger picture because clearly, those who did understand the bigger picture, did NOT FULLY understand the daily stresses (that engender hate) ordinary people go through when they interact with new immigrants.

Everybody is Right But No One is Entirely Right
Everybody is right. The trade data is correct. However, the feelings of ordinary people of (1) being aggressed and (2) being put upon and (3) being pushed out and (4) being dispossessed are also valid data for political decisions. These were the same feelings that engendered so much hate that the French people beheaded Marie-Antoinette. It was this same hate that motivated Jo Cox's murder. Problem is, people stand on 2 sides of the divide and can only see from their own perspective.

That is why politics in so many countries are polarised.

If British lawmakers had ensured that the benefits of globalisation also reached the poorest British people (who every day needed to interact with new immigrants and therefore bore more than their fair share of the burden of integrating new immigrants), then there would not have been so much hate that a beautiful and talented woman like Jo Cox would have had to die... and Brexit would not have happened.

Reading into French history, King Louis XVI (Marie-Antoinette's husband) did try his best to reform policy but he could never push reform through because the nobles rejected all attempts at reform in order to hang onto their own profits. Similarly, in Britain, USA and Singapore, it is the large corporations and business owners who reject reform in order to hang on to their profits.

A way must be found to redistribute the benefits of globalisation better despite what powerful corporations and business owners say. Corporations exist for profit. If the government listens only to them, then policies would fail to consider important HUMANISTIC aspects of living together harmoniously as one people.

In any case, it is all about balance. Wealth must be redistributed and social inequality reduced to the point where people do not hate the wealthy. However, it wouldn't do to redistribute wealth to such an extent that it dis-incentivises hard work and personal effort. It wouldn't do to be so HUMANISTIC that the country loses jobs and trade.

Thank Heavens Singapore Came Through 2011's Elections Quite Well
Brexit could have been us except that LKY left behind such a stable government that whilst badly rocked, did remain and it CHANGED. LKY left behind a team of intelligent and honest people who (after 2011) began to put ears to ground and became strong and robust bridges between voters and the civil service.

It wouldn't do to let top civil servants call all the policy shots because the Civil Service is the repository of past wisdom and in governance, the past is not enough to predict the future. Methods and policies of the past may not work for present times. If no one bridges the voters and the Civil Service, then policies will increasingly become irrelevant because the present is ever dynamic and very different from the past.

I do hope that watching Brexit unfurl will bring greater unity to Singaporeans. Perhaps the high socio-economic classes (top civil servants and politicians) will understand the intensity of the hate involved when Singaporeans of the lower socio-economic classes come into constant abrasive contact with new immigrants. Perhaps the low socio-economic classes will see the realities of trade data and how it affects them.

A middle ground develops and polarisation of views is prevented.

Nobody Wins In a Brexit
Finally, Boris Johnson realises that he has scored a pyrrhic victory. See HERE. Quite an interesting checkmate where everyone is a loser. Over on USA, Brexit would give people some pause before they vote for another dumb blonde.


Anonymous said...

Dr Pet

Yup, when the Brexit news broke, what went off in my head was yup, the commoner Brit voted as the benefits of being in EU had not trickled down to most of them. Brexit has many lessons for a place like Singapore where we abdicate a great deal of our mega-decisions to top civil servants who (as you pointed out) are hardly the commoner folks. While we value them for their quality of intellectual thought, who should be responsible for 'teaching' them empathy?

Petunia Lee said...

It is only human to not be able to understand without walking some ways in the other person's shoes. I suppose that is why societies and human systems collapse into chaos and strife after some years of stability. As people separate out into layers (thanks to stable government and systems) the divide between the layers becomes more and more stark. Then hate develops and shit gets stirred up and new systems get invented. Whatever the political of social system, it is only a matter of time before those who rule lose touch with those they rule... simply because it is only human to not understand what its like to walk in someone else's shoes.

So pessimistic hor?