Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Meaning of Patriotism

National Day just ended about an hour ago and the news about how great and wonderful we are continues to play. In case you missed it, the parade will be broadcast again - sometime next week. For me, I was at the PGFNB's trying to deknot her back with my knuckles and Marcus was probably the most excited person in the room when it came to saying the pledge - which was, for once set a peculiar time and the local media took delight in reporting on how people stopped their daily activities to say the pledge.

Do I sound bitchy here? Perhaps I do. I mean this with no disrespect to the guys who participated in the parade, I know the personal effort that was invested in making sure that this was a good show. The parade has also become an institution that the nation looks forward to. As such, despite the dollars spent on the parade, I don't hold anything against the parade.

What I do question is the annual chest thumping. Yes, Singapore has achieved allot and I can say that Singapore is a pretty darn good place to live in, even when compared to many cities in the developed world. I'm always reminded of a US Navy boy telling me, "If you think Geylang is your worst area, you haven't seen an American city." Being known as a "boring" place is better than being known as a place where people get stabbed every three seconds or a place where people can spend years in school and emerge not knowing how to read or write.

I lived in the "Wonderful" West for my formative years and I came home to Singapore quite happily. After nine years of living here, I have no overwhelming desire to go back to live in the West. Other than visiting a few friends and relatives, there's no reason for me to look West. Let's face it, life in Singapore is exceedingly comfortable. There's allot to say for streets that don't stink of piss and having to look a whingy but able bodied guy asking you for spare change at every corner on the streets of your somewhat exclusive neighbourhood (In my case it was in London's Soho.)

Yes, Singapore has achieved allot in 44-years, which on the scale of things is not allot. We have allot to be proud of and let's give credit where credit is due, the PAP governments that have run the place have delivered the goodies. Say what you like about the PAP's constant electoral success, but it's a political party that has delivered consistently.

Having said all of that, I have ask myself if all of this chest thumping is actually patriotism or real love for the country. Chat to enough people and you'll find that Singapore is heaven on earth if you talk to a foreigner. The Straits Times even went as far as having a Canadian tell us to be greatful for Singapore. Talk to a native born Singaporean and what you'll here are grumbles. Life is Singapore is comfortable but its expensive and getting more so. Talk to enough native born Singaporeans and you'll find complaints about how this is a country that no longer cares about its people.

Is this true? Well, to an extent I would disagree. Yes, the government is very money minded but because it is money minded it has accumilitated enough money to benefit the people.

However, what I do disagree with is the idea that the future is only capable of being decided by a select few. Without fail, National Day turns out to be an occasion for the powers that be to remind the Plebs who's boss. One year it was Ministers deciding that it was better for the Nation to increase their high salaries than to assist the least able. In the last two-years we've seen worse examples of this - namely the escape of Mas Selamat and the Minister in question's lack of remorse for the lapses in competence by his ministry and the continued presence of the Prime Minister's wife as CEO of the company set up to invest the money of the people after her company has invested incompetently.

In both instances, the public is only told that "shit happens," and the only people who defend these actions are usually the people who are only good for pissing on - ie people who talk about values but when it comes to sacrificing their time for the nation, they run away.

People who ask valid questions are quickly discouraged and discredited. I'm told by a senior editor that this is not true about the Singapore establishment and quite often it's the people trying to get close to the establishment that choak the efforts to create a discussion. You become lablled unpatriotic.

That's not patriotism, that's parotism - and the two are distinctly different. The Parot waves his flag on national day and may be attends a few grassroots sessions to tell the poor to stop being poor and contribute to the nation by giving more money to the rich, but when it comes to doing anything real for the people or for the country, they quickly run away. In National Service, you'll find that they usually end up working in Manpower base as clerks.

A patriot is something differnet. He recognises the good and the bad of his country but makes a choice to be in his or her country. He or she is open to dicussion when it comes to talking about flaws. Usually, you find patriots serving National Service in a combat unit, in a combat role.

It's fun to have a public holiday but I think we need to look beyond the hype of what exactly National Day is and ask our selves if the love we feel for the country is based on something more than the Ministry of Community Development's advertising campaign.

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