theonlinecitizen

a community of singaporeans

The next step – “proactive blogging”?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on May 16, 2007

By Benjamin

Blogging is a medium of communication. Web logs were once little more than online diaries, for people to write about their daily lives. Now, even these personal blogs can gain international attention and recognition. Xiaxue is one. Other, more prolific, Internet readers and bloggers would be able to name more.

Ultimately, a blog is a tool for expression; through expression, one communicates ideas; through ideas, one influences actions.

Blogs, therefore, can be powerful tools for change.

There are currently quite a number of blogs out there that recognize this. They write on politics, social problems, current events, issues which capture the writer’s attention so intensely that he wants to tell the world what he or she thinks of the issue at hand.

Most blogs are reactionary

However, in Singapore, most such blogs are reactionary in nature. Their writers read newspapers, watch news programs, listen to news broadcasts, or otherwise gain information from the media. Then, based on what they receive from the media, they write articles about these issues. This is what I term the conventional approach.

The conventional approach has some failings, chief amongst which is dependency on the media. Most of what these writers write upon is taken from media sources; therefore, what the media leaves out, accidentally or otherwise, is usually unknown to the writers, barring personal research. The bloggers, in this sense, are not contributing anything new. All they are doing is adding breadth and depth.

While this itself is desirable, and even necessary for democratic discussion, whatever the mainstream media leaves out is not covered by bloggers who draw their inspiration solely from the media. This means that issues that require discussion and debate are not covered by bloggers that only react to the media.

We all know what they are: the perennial ‘sensitive’ issues of race, language, religion, and Singaporean politics (the last to a relatively lesser extent). Less sensitive topics include economic policy, the environment, education, and so on. Because the media does not cover them, or at least as much as other issues, there is significantly less debate on these issues, all of which impact Singapore.

For instance, where is the demarcation between State and religion? Is the current education system suitable for the future? How do we maintain racial harmony in our multiethnic mosaic? What kind of government is best for Singapore?

None of my peers write, or even think, about these, and (relatively) very few Singaporean bloggers write about some of these topics. This lack of discussion and debate on these less-covered topics present a significant stumbling block to the development of a mature, free, democratic society in Singapore.

Resource asymmetry

Another problem is resource asymmetry. Established media organisations have contacts, funding, resources, personnel, and sources that online journals and the like cannot, as yet, hope to compete against. When compared to the individual blogger, this asymmetry becomes very stark.

Mainstream media organisations have more access to events that shape human history, and have greater power to communicate information about these events to more people around the world, than individual bloggers. These bloggers, lacking the resources to compete with media organisations, therefore cannot hope to race against media organisations for readership, popularity ratings, and the like.

In fact, the only way for individuals to successfully compete with the media is to happen to be at the scene when an event occurs. This is, naturally, very difficult for any one blogger to do.

Complementing the mainstream media

Before one gets any false impressions, though, I am not advocating direct competition with the mainstream media. Instead, I am putting forth a way to complement it. The media’s resources, unrivalled in the blogosphere, allows for communication of current events, facts, and information that the world thrives on.

Social and political activists, based on what they know of the current situation, can then use blogs and other alternative media to advocate change, to realise their dream of a better country.

Because of these problems, I believe that activist bloggers, bloggers who use their blogs as platforms to express ideas and inspire change, should attempt a different approach: the proactive approach. Instead of responding to events reported in the media, bloggers should instead pre-empt and go beyond the media, in three ways.

A proactive approach to blogging

Firstly, they could write on possible future scenarios. This is an extension of the conventional approach.

Utilising this approach, they extend their writing, throwing up future possibilities that could result from an issue after careful analysis. For example, imagine that oil prices have gone up. By this approach, future topics for writing include: a prediction of future economic performance, effects on the household, effects on the country, possible encouragement of alternative energy research, and so on.

Then, the writers may follow through by explaining why these events happen, personal thoughts on this issue, and so on.

In writing about these future scenarios, bloggers can gain more readers because people base their future actions on current knowledge. If people know about these future possibilities now, then they would take action sooner, instead of waiting for these future events to occur, hopefully for the better. Using this approach, the more accurate and incisive a blogger’s analysis and predictions are, the better his reputation; the better his reputation, the higher his readership; the higher his readership, the further his reputation spreads, and so on.

Going beyond the MSM

Secondly, bloggers could cover issues that the media has not covered.

This approach is one of the harder ones, because of a seeming lack of material, and the fact that this has to be balanced with readership (unless, of course, you don’t care about readership figures). This is most useful for causes that receive very little attention in the media and/or the blogosphere, like the environment, economics, and the like.

If successful, bloggers would be able to raise awareness of these issues to the general public, and then inspire people to action. Remember that the end result of communication, intentional or not, is always action. If you want people to take action on particular issues that are close to your heart, but unknown to the world, you must first tell them that these issues exist. Hence, the second approach.

A controversial approach

Thirdly, bloggers could cover issues that the media cannot, or will not, cover. This is naturally the most controversial approach, one that could potentially result in lawsuits if one is not careful, or at least a strongly worded note from certain parties.

The most obvious issue is politics, specifically certain actions undertaken by the Government. The more sensitive ones include race and religion, and all issues branching from there. To avoid unnecessary heartbreak, one should adopt a neutral, objective tone, and to keep a clear focus on what you intend to put forth.

I myself have written articles on hate speech, and its links to freedom of speech, without facing censure from the authorities. One must also bear in mind the current times: an article condemning a particular religion shortly after extremists from said religion commit a terrorist act will only fuel the flames. This approach is best utilised when there is an issue that the public feels strongly about, but is too afraid to bring it up, for any number of reasons.

Effecting change through “activist-blogging”

Activist bloggers, through this approach, can communicate to a wider audience, hopefully with less trouble, and inspire the kind of change one hopes for, to see through one’s vision of one’s country.

These approaches provide a relative superiority to the mainstream media. They go deeper than what the media can or will report, most of the time. They cover more issues than the media ever will.

More importantly, they harness the power of individuals loosely bound by a common goal. Bloggers do not have to work in concert to raise an issue. If a collection of bloggers were to write about a single issue, that issue will emerge into the collective consciousness of the readers of their blogs, even if all of the bloggers have no communication with each other at all.

Activist bloggers can even go beyond, by advocating action and change, and inspiring their readers to take action through their words, to realise that change.

Arise, communicate and inspire

All the media truly does, and can do, is to report facts, and sometimes place a spin on things, and perhaps throw in the odd analysis. Sometimes, these facts alone are enough to inspire action, though activist bloggers should never work under this assumption: if anything, the change could be for the worse.

Any propaganda within the mainstream media cannot drown out the collective voice of hundreds of thousands of bloggers, working in concert or as individuals, due to the sheer volume and variety of views raised, and the Internet’s inherent freedom. When these views, raised by activist bloggers, reach the people, and inspire people to take action, then these bloggers would have fulfilled their goals: to communicate ideas, and to enact change.

Blogging is the next weapon in the arsenal of activists around the world. Before they can enact change, they must first go beyond, and be proactive. Only then can they arise, communicate, and inspire.

About the author:

Benjamin is a 17-year-old Year Two Junior College pupil. He specialises in political theory, philosophy, and other social issues that catch his eye from time to time. He believes that democracy rests on frank debate; consequently, to reach as wide an audience base as possible, he maintains a blog here: Words Of The Lionheart

Advertisements

23 Responses to “The next step – “proactive blogging”?”

  1. Ned Stark said

    You know what, i agree with you. Many of us are fighting a battle on the battleground chosen by others. While it is rather unrealistic to expect everyone to come up with something new all the time, a possible course of action could be to widen the scope of discussion as you pointed out earlier on.

  2. Leounheort said

    Aye. Thanks.

  3. FreedomNotFiefdom said

    Then again the other issue is blogs are preaching to the converted. Without mass media, the blogs can hardly reach the critical mass of the non-converted crowd.

  4. Benjamin said

    Yes and no, actually. Blogs do push a particular agenda, especially ones that comment on social/political issues. I’ve read a study somewhere that states that people are more likely to read such blogs if they agree with personal views. So, the core readership of a blog would probably comprise of ‘the converted’, so to speak.

    However, because blogs are on the Internet, the views they express are open to all Internet users to see. It is probable, therefore, for readers along the length of the opinion spectrum about an issue, as well as those without an opinion yet, to read the views posited by a particular blog. In fact, someone actually came up to me personally to tell me that his friend, normally apolitical, read my blog and found himself agreeing with what I wrote vis-a-vis the pay hike in ministers’ salaries. Because this probability exists, I don’t believe that blogs preach to the converted — at least, not all the time. In fact, like this case, it’s possible for blogs to convert people, too.

    And that, I think, is the ultimate aim of bloggers/commentators/activists.

  5. For political blog, are you prepared to go to jail ? You will be sued for your comments if you are not careful. I am well prepared and you can visit my blog at
    http://kewkahfatt.blogspot.com/index.html .

    Blogging is slightly better than website as readers can comment on the spot about the article. However political blog is not popular for the opposition bloggers as the majority still look for entertainment blogs.

    Just like this blog, how many visits per day are there ? How many make comments ?

  6. Leo said

    Good analysis. Also good idea with regard to the pro-active blogging.

    However, pro-active blogging means building up interest from scratch or nearly from scratch. This is slightly better as you choose your battleground. But you also need to assemble your “troops”.

    The good thing is that the “troops” you do managed to recruit are probably of a better quality than the reactionary bandwagoners you find with any current controversy.

    The bad thing is that the build-up may be slow, and the opposing camp may have ample warning of your intent.

    That said, most bloggers have their pet peeves, area of interest, or subjects of expertise. Mr Brown, for example would definitely have an interest in govt policy on the developmentally challenged because of his daughter.

    But which is better – to have one MP with a axe to grind about the disabled (Denise Phua? or Cynthia Phua? I always get the two mixed up), or to have 1000 bloggers with a personal interest in policies for the disabled?

    The suggestion for pro-active blogging is not much more than a call for e-lobby groups.

    Lobby groups or special interest groups in Singapore don’t cut much ice.

    It’s a bit of a cliche but it’s not the Singapore way for the governnment to be seen to bow to pressure from special interests groups.

    To speak the language that the government understands, you need to present the cold hard facts as to the practical dollars and cents of the issue.

    Spell out the costs of looking after a grown-up mentally disabled person against the cost of a semi-independent developmentally challenged person who had undergone headstart and activities for daily living programmes. Then you sell the idea for policies for the disabled.

    Similarly, all the arguments against the ministers’ pay hike made no dent in their resolve because the proposed solution was an appeal to the intrinsic honour of public service which were brushed off as “noble sentiments”.

    So it’s not just pro-active blogging. It’s also speaaking to the language that the govt understands. 1000 sentimental blogs are just 1000 sentimental fools that the govt will ignore.

  7. Benjamin said

    Kew Kah Fatt,

    yes, I am quite prepared to go all the way for my beliefs. I shall face whomever I have to face in court, stay in jail if I must, or worse. My ideas and views won’t surrender to argument of force.

    Yes, many people look for entertainment blogs. But, there’s an increasing number of people who are starting to read political blogs. They might not be popular now, but things could change in the future. Where politics and decisions are concerned, I find that one doesn’t have to be popular — one just has to convince a powerful minority, and speak to a silent majority. If blogs can help in this process, then they should be encouraged, no? At least if one is seeking change.

    Politics is not a question of numbers alone. It is also about the strength of ideas, the conviction of men, and the spirit of the times. Where proactive blogging is concerned, I think it’ll take off if we tap into all these.

  8. Benjamin said

    Leo,

    thanks. Well, proactive blogging is never an easy task, as you’ve rightly pointed out. Getting the right people is very difficult, as I can attest to. Sparking interest is also difficult; as Mr. Kew above has said, people are more interested in entertainment than politics.

    All this aside, blogging is fundamentally about communication. It is about expressing one’s views on something, regardless of what that thing is. If you strike a chord with the right kind of people, then you’re on the way to success.

    I think you’ve misunderstood me. Pre-emptive blogging is a strategy to capialise on the strengths of bloggers (flexibility, freedom, individuality, etc.), given a system dominated by the MSM. It’s not about e-lobbying, because individuals, too, can adopt it. I have, in fact, alluded to this in my essay. At the same time, because this strategy is very broad, it can also apply to groups, if they so choose.

    Actually, the Government has bowed to pressure from special interest groups. I can’t quite recall its name, but I do remember that a lobby group about the environment has successfully pushed the government to take more eco-friendly measures..which I can’t remember now, since that article was written about four years ago. Yawning Bread/Alex Au would also argue that the Government is being influenced by a conservative Christian element, seen by its refusal to decriminalise homosexuality and other issues; more details are on his website. Just because the government doesn’t say that it has done so doesn’t mean that it hasn’t.

    Speaking the language of our government is not incompatible with this approach. In fact, it can be complementary. The real problem with this is that the Government hires most of the economists in Singapore, and gives them the facts and figures to make such arguments cogent. But, if there were an economics-savvy person, and if he were to get his hands on these facts and figures (not too impossible), then he can adopt this approach. State the economic costs/benefits of an issue and post it on a blog, have others read them, adopt these arguments, direct the arguments against the State, and see how it reacts.

    But since this sort of training is highly specialised, and the figures little-known, people usually can’t make these sorts of arguments. Therefore, people make other arguments: honour, ideas, differentiation between public and private sector, and so on. These arguments have weight in themselves. I will not be surprised if this issue turns up again and again and again, with the weight of all these arguments swinging against the Government. Should our rulers attempt to dismiss them all as ‘noble sentiments’, they are in very real danger of losing political ground on this issue. They have not dealt with these arguments in any way, and because ordinary Singaporeans respond better to stuff like honour and differentiation than the Government’s beloved dollars, the people will not be convinced by the Government. This dissatisfaction would be manifest in various ways and means: blogging, letter-writing, maybe even voting. The Party may even recognise this, and act accordingly; we might even have seen the beginnings of this, when Lee Hsien Loong pledged this pay increase to charity. So, even if we don’t speak the language of the Government, we are in no way disadvantaged.

    Proactive blogging, in the end, is a means to reach the people. Where politics is concerned, reaching out to the people, especially those who can do something, remains paramount. Hence, proactive blogging. Those 1000 sentimental blogs may be dismissed by the government, but if they connect to the people, then the government, to put it mildly, will experience interesting times.

    PS You’re probably referring to Cynthia Phua. Denise Phua’s area of interest is autism and other mentally-challenged people.

  9. Benjamin said

    Leo,

    I think there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding here.

    This article outlines a possible strategy for bloggers to capitalise on their strengths in a system dominated by traditional (‘MSM’) media. It’s not about e-lobbying, and it’s not about special interest groups. The strategy outlined here applies to individual bloggers AND groups of bloggers alike. They can choose to work together, or they can choose to go solo. I’m not pushing for lobbies or single-issue-groups or the like in this article, though I have no problem with them.

    This idea is not incompatible with your proposal to speak the language of the government. In fact, they are complementary. To activists, blogging is a means of convincing both State and people. To go around the media, we have proactive blogging, to reach the people. To more readily convince the government, we can talk in terms of their beloved dollars and cents, using proactive blogging as a guideline to reach out to them. So, if a blogger were to get his hands on the necessary statistics and facts, and if he or she were trained in interpreting these facts, then he could very well argue along those lines, based on this strategy.

    Activists, political bloggers, and lobby groups all have one thing in common: their goal is to convince states and peoples to adopt a particular agenda. Based on this goal, they create, adapt, and adopt suitable mass communication strategies to do so. If it works, then it works. If strategies can complement each other, then they do. I’m just proposing a strategy for all the above. Hope I’ve clarified things.

    PS You’re probably referring to Cynthia Phua. Denise Phua’s area of interest lies in autism and the intellectually disabled.

  10. Leo said

    Benjamin,

    You may be referring to Chek Jawa which stands as the one shining example of the govt “caving in” to a special interest group. Or did it? The fact that it stands as a stark and lonely example leads me to wonder if it is the exception that proves the rule? Or maybe I’m just cynical. Don’t let me infect you. 🙂

    And yes. Speaking to the language that the govt understands is not incompatible with pre-emptive or pro-active blogging. Each approach is independent of the other, but both can complement each other. But I would argue that it is more critical to speak the language the govt understands.

    One point I wanted to make in my earlier comment is that even with a groundswell of opposition to the Minister’s pay issue, there was no impact on the decision.

    I was going to contrast the usual blogging experience which one analyst of the Singapore blogosphere correctly defined as “controversy-driven” vs your proposal for pre-emptive blogging.

    In the first, there is numbers and there is interest. But it can also be seen as just “bandwagoning”. Pro-active blogging is tactically better, but I have doubts about it’s ability to mobilise thoughts and keyboards, let alone feet and bodies.

    I guess my scepticism lies with the medium. Blogs are the great equaliser in term of giving everyone a voice, but by the same token every blog has an equal chance to be ignored. And most are.

    Blogs are currently controversy-driven and your suggestion is to turn this around. I’m not too hopeful because the nature of the medium tends towards shooting from the hip and adding to gossip and rumour mill.

    And as for the gays, when the laws are changed it will not be because of any argument about acceptance of diversity, or tolerance, or the variety of the human experience, or that the church has lost the ear of the govt, but simply because there is a link between gays and creativity and the govt sees creativity as critical to the success of Singapore.

    Similarly the govt reversed its stance on casinos, and motor racing (F1). The evidence are there: if you want to convince the govt, you will need more than just noble sentiments. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean II, “the currency of the realm is… well… currency”

    If all you have are noble sentiments, they may pay lip service or do some political wayang, set up a committee but with limited resources, authority, and narrow scope to work within and nothing will be accomplished. (I’m thinking here about the transport for the disabled and how little progress has been made. The wheelchair accessible buses are laughable.)

    Don’t mistake tokenism for “baby steps”.

  11. Benjamin,

    Talking is no use. Where is your blog ?

    How come no one reply about the number of visitors and active commentors ?

    For individual blogger like me, interest in my blog will be limited. But for a blog like this website, there is a group to support it growing. So more visitors will come here than to my blog. So for opposition members who want to make known themselves to others, they have to collectively set a blog for themselves rather than individual blog.

    http://kewkahfatt.blogspot.com/index.html .

  12. Cheah said

    Leo,

    it’s not a ‘stark and lonely’ example. During the GE last year, Goh promised all sorts of carrots (lifting the whip for the Hougang MP among other things) to Hougang if they voted for the PAP. If I recall correctly, following popular outrage, they’ve been dropped. I’m sure TOC can provide more details on previous elections and where the government has conceded. This, as I have repeatedly said earlier, is not merely about special interest groups. It’s about basic people’s power: as individuals, as groups, as collectives, as a nation.

    You can see the fruits of the hard work of special interest groups, even outside elections. Alex Au once recounted to me the activities of a small group in NUS. That group was composed of homosexuals of both genders, started in the early 1990s (when the Government was still actively clamping down on gays). This group decided to raise awareness of homosexuals, by reaching out to people and getting them to recognise that they are just like other people, outside sexual orientation. They did so by conducting informal lectures regularly, rotating amongst themselves, on various topics. Slowly, these lectures became more and more popular. People started to understand that homosexuality isn’t something that’s negative. This increase in awareness was marked by a decrease of State repression of homosexuality: these days, the police won’t crack down on homosexuals just because of their sexual preferences. Therefore, even special interest groups can influence government decisions.

    In fact, because of this, it is sometimes preferable to appeal to the people, and not to the government. Is there a plausible economic reason to argue for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the removal of official repression of the homosexual movement? Sure: foreign talent may move out. That’s all fine and well — but then, homosexuals are in the minority. The majority of ‘foreign talent’ remain heterosexual. In fact, some hardcore homophobics from the West may even decide to reside here, if they knew about Section 377A, which effectively criminalises homosexual sexual activities. Furthermore, the government doesn’t always use economics: another reason they will and have cited in this is public morality and feelings. In this case, using dollars and cents will mean all of nothing: money is irrelevant in these two arguments. Because of this, you need to appeal not to the Government, but to the people, when the situation calls for it.

    Even if the Government were to agree to your terms because of the language you use, what about the people? States do not exist on their own; they sustain themselves by recruiting from the people. The current government will eventually step down, and another will come up. If the people constituting that government, formerly recruited from an unconvinced people, decide to sanction official repression of homosexuality, then all you have done is to postpone repression for a generation, instead of eliminating it forever. Remember: Singapore, being an erstwhile democratic country, elects its leaders from the people. The leaders, therefore, carry with them certain mindsets, influenced by the people, when the enter politics and set public policies. If the people are not convinced, then the above could very well happen. To convince the people, you need to appeal to them — and hence, my above proposal.

    Proactive blogging IS mobilisation. It’s a call for bloggers to step up and say something BEFORE the media covers it, or if the media DOESN’T cover it. They type up what they want to type, and post it. If they read the times right, they’ll be able to attract popular attention, and therefore sway people to their cause.

    Blogs can be ignored, up to a point. However, as I have alluded to earlier, the government may do so only at its peril. The very existence of states rests upon the people’s voice. If the people decide that the current government should go, then it would go. Witness the Russian revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Chinese revolution, voting results after scandals in the West, and so on. When blogs tap into the collective consciousness, and influence public opinion in a fashion dramatically opposed to the State, then the State faces a great political problem. It may choose to ignore the issues, but risk the people remembering that. Blogs and activists can step in to ensure that the people don’t forget this. When governments decide that ignoring the people’s voice incurs too high a political cost, they would bend — or break. The fact that the PAP has established a unit to post pro-Party comments and arguments on blogs indicates just how seriously the Government sees this. It also indicates that the Government recognises that the people can be swayed by bloggers. So there should be arguments to appeal to the people, as well.

    I’m not proposing ‘shooting from the hip’ and ‘contributing to the rumour mill’. What I am saying is that blogs would become another form of communication. Blogs can and have showcased full-length, creditable, well thought-out arguments before: one need only see Gayle Goh and Yawning Bread. This is not just a call for bloggers to say any old thing. It’s also a call for them to read the spirit of the times, to spot trends and issues, and raise awareness of them. When done intelligently enough, they will no longer be ‘contributing to the rumour mill’. They would instead have submitted a series of ideas to the marketplace of ideas, for consideration, and hopeful adoption.

    The real problem here is that most times, the Government only considers events which are economic in nature. Casinos, motor racing, Crazy Horse, and the like are all, in one way or another, connected to businesses. They have not yet opened other issues to public debate: democracy, human rights, and other non-quantifiable issues. Using economics to debate with them would not be enough; activists and bloggers need to communicate to the people and with all sorts of arguments.

    I’m not mistaking tokenism for baby steps. What I am proposing is a new communication strategy. The overall idea is to encourage bloggers, especially activist bloggers, to reach out to the people, and perhaps the State. If they could convince the government to change, then it’s all fine and well. But, realistically, it’s not going to happen because of their limitations, at least not for the time being. So, they need to convince the people to effect bottom-up change, and present the Government with an ultimatum: change your policies, or we will change you.

    The latter doesn’t always require elections.

    Or be limited to Singapore alone.

  13. Cheah said

    Kew Kah Fatt,

    click on my name to see my blog.

    I have replied. Look at the second paragraph of my first reply to you. Also, look up the more well-known blogs: Gayle Goh, Mr. Wang, etc. They have active commentators and high readerships (at least before she closed her blog down, and he is currently re-establishing his site).

    If Opposition members wish to set up a collective blog, then they should. I’m not going to stop them, and I’m not going to discourage them. This communications strategy is complementary with this: all it calls for is for bloggers to be proactive. If they wish to band together, fine. If they’s rather work solo, so be it. If they want to argue one way, go ahead. If they insist on another, surely. All the above is complementary with my proposed strategy.

  14. leo said

    Benjamin,

    We are not in disagreement over the need to be pro-active. Tactically, it is always better to choose your battleground. However, my point is that whether you choose your ground or the ground is chosen for you, the effectiveness of your arguments, your points, comes from cold hard economics, not from warm, fuzzy ideals.

    For as long as you try to convince pragmatists of the virtue of ideals, you won’t get far. You can convince the people, heck for the minister’s salary you don’t even need to do that.

    T o w h a t e f f e c t?

    If your purpose is to gather a crowd, ideals will do. You see that at every opposition rally during elections. If you want to change govt policy, (in particular this govt), economics is what you need to present.

    Again, we agree that blogs could be used to persuade the govt to change policies. What we disagree with is the substance of the persuasion.

    Perhaps we should just leave it at that?

  15. Benjamin said

    Leo,

    once again, it seems that there’s been a misunderstanding. So let me clear it up:

    We are not in disagreement about blogging. We are not in disagreement about communications strategy. Frankly, we’re not really in disagreement with the substance of arguments.

    Why? Read all my above arguments, to the fullest, to see why. But here is a summary: talk economics to appeal to the Government; talk ideals and the like to appeal to the people — then convince the people to pressure the government to change. As I have pointed out, it has been done before; it could well happen again. Eventually, even our current government would recognise that it can ignore the People’s Voice only for so long, before facing the consequences. Bloggers, by reaching to the population, will help strengthen the people’s voice.

    So, you prefer going to the government directly. Fine. Present all the economics arguments that you wish, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll listen to you, too. When the government stops listening to that, then you need to go around the government, and appeal directly to the people. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating, it’s going to take a long time, = but it can be done.

    This is what I’m really saying. We haven’t been in any actual disagreement; all I have done is to add on to what you’ve said: we can indirectly influence policy change by influencing the people, and convincing the people to pressure the Government.

  16. Cheah,

    I have a look at your blog. I am disappointed to see your profile not up to standard. Look at mine, I have my real name and photograph posted.

    If you want to enter politics, you have to use real name and a photograph of yourself, so Singaporeans can regconise you.

  17. Cheah said

    Kew Kah Fatt,

    you assume that I want to go into mainstream politics.

    I don’t.

    I don’t intend to stand for elections in the foreseeable future. I don’t intend to effect change from within the system at this point of time. I don’t intend to join any political party here; not one of them agrees with my beliefs. Therefore, I don’t need to be recognised by ordinary citizens, not now.

    Not that it matters much to begin with. My activities outside the blogosphere have garnered me a reputation and recognisability that more than makes up for my lack of personal information and photographs within my blogs. In my college, I’m recognisable by sight and sound. Outside it, at seminars and dialogue sessions and on the streets, I, too, am recognised. So, right now, I don’t justify the need for greater personal publicity.

    Even if I had to put up something there, what could I say? ‘I am a 17-year-old Junior College debater, who’s fields of interest lie in politics and philosphy’? That’s all I can say; I don’t have much of a personal life to begin with. Historically, I don’t like keeping and taking photos of myself, because what photos there are are so distorted that they don’t reflect the subject. I don’t need to tell people what I believe in; they should be intelligent enough to infer from what I’ve written. So, there’s no need to put up anything there beyond what I have written on my personal profile.

    I need not establish my reputation through a photograph or a personal profile. I don’t need either to be recognised. My words shall speak for me. I need not take up anybody’s standards but mine, not for this. Put up whatever you please on your profile; I’m not going to stop you.

  18. Leo said

    Benjamin,

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    Here are my observations:

    People flock to opposition parties election rallies in the thousands, while the PAP have to organise their grassroots support to picnic at their rallies, and mediacorp and channelnewsasia have to angle their cameras so the crowd at the PAP rallies look substantial.

    10 out of 10 people don’t agree that minister’s pay should be increased.

    A significant number of people, including organised religion in Singapore disagree with the Casino (not sure if they are in the majority, but they are vocal).

    In other words, you’ve set very easy targets, if all you are aiming for is popular support.

    Principles are easy. Ideals are simple. Values practically sell themselves. There is no need to do much practical research for ideals, values and principles – just read alot of philosophy and related books.

    And when you’ve convince enough people then what? People’s Power? Marcos was ousted 20 years ago by People’s Power. Suharto was overthrown 10 years ago again by “people’s power”. In both these situations corruption and other mismanagement had reached breaking point for the people.

    Depending on who you ask, Singapore is either on a brink of a People’s Power revolt, or it’s so far off as to be unimaginable. I tend towards the “not within the next 5 to 10 years” view.

    And what happens after a People’s Power change of government?

    Philippines is still struggling with corruption.

    Indonesia… has been unlucky (I may be biased here), and haven’t made much progress (but at least Habibie and Gus Dur are no longer the president).

    People’s power is too extreme? Just people to pressure the govt, i.e. lobby groups and special interest groups? If you want people to convince the govt to change policy, they will still need to argue their case in pragmatic terms – i.e. in the language the govt understands.

    A petition with 10,000, 50,000 signatures is not going to do it. 10 out of 10 Singaporeans disagreeing with the Minister’s pay hike didn’t do it.

    Okay. I can’t convince you, but I’ll give you a chance to convince me. In all my comments (or almost all), I’ve made reference to the Minister’s pay. EVERYONE that I’ve spoken to have expressed anything from anger to disgust about this. I have never seen a more homogenous response from Singaporeans. PAP MPs have also expressed opposition to this proposal. I think there was even an online petition.

    Why, despite the unanimity of views, were the people unable to pressure the govt to change that policy? If your proposal were carried out as planned, would you not also have people united in consensus like in this case, and should they not be able to pressurise the govt into changing it’s policies as you theorised?

  19. Cheah said

    Leo,

    I agree. I’ve attended election rallies before, and I’ve seen the sheer number of people flocking to Opposition party rallies. For some odd reason, the PAP needs to mobilise a group of cheerleaders and line them up for the camera, in such a way that it appears as though a large group of people came up to support the PAP. But this indicates that popular support ALONE is not enough: the PAP repeatedly takes the majority of Parliament again and again.

    It’s not merely about getting popular support. It’s about getting popular support AND taking action. The petition against the rise in salary can be located here:

    http://www.petitiononline.com/paypap1/petition.html

    I am all in favour of its content: the ministers’ salaries are too high, and they should be lowered. However, I cannot bear to put my name to it. It does not attempt to calmly, persuasively, and forcefully argue for its goal. Instead, it shouts at the reader (“*FAR OUTWEIGH*”), uses irrational and emotive language (“out-of-the-world remnuneration), makes unproven assertions (“Opposition parties, civil groups and the public media are being manipulated, suppressed and destroyed through despotic means”), and refuses to argue for its second thrust (“we demand a big pay *CUT* for them for their dismal ‘service’ towards the majority of Singaporeans over the last two decades.”)

    A ‘petition’ like that will hold no water. It draws its strength mainly from its emotions and rhetoric, but that alone is not enough. When brought under the magnifying glass of cold reasoning, you can pick the petition apart. As a debater and a writer, I am utterly disgusted by the writing and arguments. A petition should present cohesive arguments, provide substance to their assertions, and present a fairly neutral tone. That way, it will not be seen as the ramblings of an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    The problem does not merely entail using language the Government understands. The problem lies with the people.

    They are not putting enough pressure on the government. Getting popular support is only a means to an end. To activists, popular support gives them the moral weight to forcefully present their agendas and their ideas to the authorities — again and again and again and again and again. The people here may be dissatisfied with the rise in salaries, but I have not heard of them doing anything more than saying that they are. Fine, they may be unhappy, but if they bite the bullet and carry on, then nothing’s going to happen. The object is to convince them to pressure the government, repeatedly and forcefully.

    This means approaching your Members of Parliament, and telling them to pressure the government to change. This means finding Ministers and MPs in dialogue session, and telling them why you think the pay rise is unjustified. This means a letter writing campaign to the Istana, telling the Prime Minister why you think the pay hike is unjustified. This means a letter writing campaign to the media, telling it and Singapore why you think the pay hike is justified. This means writing a series of essays and posting them online, telling the whole world why you think the pay hike is unjustified. This means organising talks and rallies, telling participants why you think the pay hike is unjustified. This means doing all the above, at the same time and over a long period of time.

    The issue is not just about popular support. It is about convincing the people to actually take action. My parents don’t care, and don’t want to do anything. They even tell me that I’m actually doing something wrong by criticising the government, and risk being sued. My peers are only too happy to sit and do all of nothing. People may give their voices to leaders, giving them vocal support for their policies — but when it is time to take action, they disappear. That’s because they don’t care, are too afraid to do anything, or any of a variety of reasons that stem from a combination of apathy, ignorance, and fear. In such a context, succeeding generations of activists must arise from the silent majority, communicate their ideas and plans to the people, and inspire them to shake off their apathy, and propel them into action.

    Democracy rests on the people. There is still corruption in the Philippines, because the people don’t want to do anything about it. Beyond the occasion protest against and investigation into corruption, corruption still exists. Corruption is so deeply entrenched that it’ll take a long time for it to be rooted out, and the catalyst for that is the people. But the people are not doing enough: they aren’t calling for anti-corruption drives, I’ve yet to hear of anti-corruption campaigns beyond the grassroots level, and nobody is doing anything much about it. In Indonesia, the President has declared an anti-corruption campaign, which is certainly a step up from the past, and though we have yet to see results, at the very least, there has been signs of progress. With any luck, the people will not let the President forget his campaign.

    The people may be united in their perspective. But if the people do nothing, then they cannot pressure the government into doing something. If you want the people to do something, then you need to call them to action, and be prepared to dedicate time, sweat, tears and blood, and not waver from your cause. You also need to be as loud as possible, and grow even louder, and be prepared to take a stand, and stick to it, even if it goes against the State.

    Activists must be prepared to lead the way, communicate ideas to the people, represent them, and pressure the government. The people must take a stand, and, in conjunction with these activists, pressure the government. Both parties must do so tirelessly, forcefully, reasonably and rationally. Should the people fail, slacken, or otherwise not do their part, then reformation in this country would take a very, very, very long time.

  20. leo said

    I dunno about you, but I think our discussion is progressing quite well. 🙂

    Okay, to recap, we are agreed that pro-active blogging (or any other kind of communication) is better than just reactionary responses.

    We are also agreed that popular support alone is useless, if not meaningless. It MUST lead to action.

    And here is where we may yet diverge. I say, even popular action like “People’s Power” is meaningless if the Philippines and Indonesia are any kind of example. You explain this as the lack of follow-up by the people; that after the “revolution” there was inaction.

    I’d say that as long as the revolution is rooted in ideals alone, any action would be irrelevant at worst, or transient at best. Call me capitalist, or call me pragmatist, or call me a student of Maslow, but noble ideals must be built on basic needs fulfilled.

    In other words, corruption cannot be contained simply by moral suasion and a faith in the people to adhere to noble ideals even as their stomachs growl, their wives nag, and their children cry. People don’t start out being corrupt because they are evil and immoral. They start out by wanting to feed their families.

    And that is an economic issue. And the PAP still take every election because people believe that whatever else the PAP might be, at least they can deliver the economic goods.

    And for as long as opposition want to take the moral high ground and leave the PAP to take the economic low ground with bread a butter issue, the PAP will take the majority.

  21. Cheah said

    Leo,

    frankly, I’ve made more progress here than with any of my college mates. They back off after the first round or two. Any more than that usually degrades into a flurry of insults from the other side.

    And here, I think, is where the misunderstanding begins. We’ve been dealing with two ostensibly different issues here: the nature of People’s Power, the role of activists and its effects on government; and the fact that economics is still a fundamental aspect of politics, specifically in elections and public policy. Somewhere along the line, the division between the two became blurred, because they intersect at a very grey area. So, for clarity’s sake, I shall first address People’s Power and related issues.

    People’s Power and less dramatic forms of popular pressure can and have been driven by ideals before. At the same time, these ideals were underscored by the basic needs of the people. Throughout history, it seems to me that revolutions and fundamental shifts in politics have been driven by two things: ideals and basic needs. The leaders of these events are often driven by ideals — if at all. The people that support them, however, are more interested in basic wants and needs. The communists, for example, wished to institute a perfect society in Russia. The peasants that supported them, however, did so because the communists promised to bring the unpopular Tsar’s reign to an end; redistribute wealth more-or-less equally to the poor; land reform to benefit otherwise oppressed farmers; punish the landlords, aristocrats, and other officials who had oppressed them; withdraw from the First World War, which had claimed thousands of (ordinary) Russian lives; and so on. What I have been saying all along is that activists and bloggers should be proactive in reaching out to the people to gain support for their agenda, and in reaching out to the government to pressure it to change. They can adopt the appropriate strategies to do so. When I said ‘talk ideals and the like’, I actually meant that the activists could use ideals as part of an overarcing communications strategy, which does not exclude using arguments based on the people’s basic needs. So, they can say that something is unjust and the like, and then carry on and say why this is bad to the ordinary Singaporean, much in the way the communists did. Or, they can talk about how and why ordinary Singaporeans would be affected by something. Ultimately, the goal for activists and leaders is to appeal to the people; what arguments they use is based on the situation on the ground.

    The problem of democracy is that both the government and the people have to constantly act. The government must constantly execute its duties: run the country, safeguard the economy, root out corruption, deal with poverty, etc. The people, in turn, must constantly check and balance off the government, to ensure that it is doing its job fairly, without abusing its power. However, if either dynamic fails, then the system will suffer. So, let’s look at corruption in the Philippines. People’s Power was driven, among other things, by frustration against corruption and anti-corruption efforts, or lack thereof. That is the people’s check against the government, setting an example for succeeding governments to follow. But the current government isn’t doing much, if anything, about corruption. Therefore, the government has failed. And the people aren’t saying much about it. Therefore, the people have failed. Hence, the system has failed in the Philippines, with regards to corruption. Ultimately, in this context, the people can put as much pressure as it likes on the government, but if the government does nothing, then all of nothing will happen. And if the government does something that harms the people, but the people don’t react, then nothing will happen.

    So, having done with the above, I shall now proceed to the next issue here: the role of economics in conventional politics, specifically elections and public policy.

    Where politics and elections are concerned, we actually agree. The people will only vote for the party that safeguards their economic well-being, and other basic needs. If the party just happens to be authoritarian or liberal, the people would accept it anyway. As it is, I have yet to hear of a sound economic policy from the Singapore Democratic Party, in addition to their noble-sounding mission of increased freedom and democracy. I’ve yet to read any economic plans from most of the other parties, in fact, and what I have heard sounds ridiculous (I recall hearing something along the lines of economic merger and freer trade with Malaysia, which flies in the face of historical fact). Where Singaporeans, and most people, are concerned, elections will revolve around matters that are keenly felt by the people. This is because most voters, in my opinion, are selfish, self-centred beings. They will therefore vote for whomever they believe will attend to their personal needs the best — but not necessarily the needs of other peoples or groups within the same nation.

    Currently politically-charged matters that will decide elections will not encompass the rise in ministers’ salaries. The people may be unanimously against it, but it does not affect them one whit. Therefore, it’s not going to be a major issue, because the people do not feel it as strongly as they feel for other issues that directly affect them. As it is not a major issue, it would probably be a minor factor, if at all, in each individual voter’s cost-benefit analysis, if one were made, before he or she goes to the ballots. So far, only one party has trumped all the others in appealing to the people, by addressing and promising to address their current and future concerns.

    That party is the PAP.

  22. Leo said

    I agree. Most voters are selfish and self-centred beings. Or rather, most people are simple people who make decisions based on one, sometimes two factors. And the prime factor in their consideration would be self-interest.

    And anytime you get a crowd of selfish, simple people going you have to simplify and distill the message down to a sound-bite or a meaningless chant that loses all nuances, subtlety, or intelligence. That’s the nature of crowds, mobs, and I guess People’s power. Mobs/crowds have a mind of their own and it seems to me that the nature of mobs/crowds is less than the sum of its parts. So I’m not too crazy about People’s Power.

    There may be some situations where People’s Power might be appropriate, but i think when our last best hope lies with a simple-minded mob, we’re pretty much screwed.

    As for democracy, I have a jaundiced view on that, but let me just leave it at that. Maybe we’ll discuss that another time.

    Thanks for the chat.

  23. Cheah said

    Leo,

    surely. You’re welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: