03 January 2007

We are all collaborators now

There is a common link between the relatively tiny problem of how to enforce a smoking ban on eating places and a key mechanism of totalitarianism, which is to get ordinary citizens to exercise control over each other on behalf of the government. Full essay.


theonlinecitizen said...

Hi Alex,

As always, your articles stimulate the grey matter. :)

What you're saying reminds me of Cherian George's term, "calibrated coercion". But while I do see the points of what you're saying (and I accept them), I wonder if we singaporeans are just as guilty of 'passive submission' in the face of this 'calibrated coercion'.

The tool with which the govt enforce this 'coercion' is monetary disincentives, it would seem. And it is an easy, simple & effective tool - given how our society worships at the altar of materialism.

So, even if we had the means to reject such 'coercion', I wonder if we will.


Anonymous said...

I supposed some would argue that you are making a mountain of a mole hill. However, I would put it to these people and remind them of what happen in Nazi Germany.

In Nazi Germany, to carry out his genocidal policies, Hilter made collaborators of the German people. Do we want that to happen to Singapore?

It wouldn't happen, I can hear some cries. But bear this in mind, if in prosperous nation and we are not mindful of such danger, will we be more mindful if or, to be dramatic, when we lapse into Nazi-like dictatorship?

Teck Soon said...

From the definition of "totalitarian" (from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary), I would not be so quick to claim that Singapore is not totalitarian. Does Singapore have a)centralized control by an autocratic leader/hierarchy, and b)subordination of the individual to the state, with censorship as an example?

Now read the definition and ask yourself if Singapore belongs. The knee-jerk reaction is to proclaim that Singapore is not totalitarian and only countries like N. Korea are totalitarian (we are not as "bad" as them). But read the definition and think carefully before concluding. It is based on political regime type, not on wealth, material success, educational qualifications of leaders or happiness of citizens:
1 a : of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : AUTHORITARIAN, DICTATORIAL; especially : DESPOTIC b : of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism)

Matilah_Singapura said...

Fuck off! I have the right to consume a legal product — yeah a DRUG man (deal with it, some humans like drugs), and as long as I do it without affecting anyone else, any prohibition is a violation of my natural right.

Could we still function as a society by leaving the evermore powerful state, and tattle-tale do-gooder, absolute moralist citizens from interfering?

Of course we could. Simply allow the restaurant, bar and kopitiam owners to decide how they'd like to cate to their smoking and non-smoking clientele — even if the smokers had to pay a premium for the maintenance of "special areas" — that would be far better than the use of force.

Everyone has the damn divine right to choose whatever habit he likes, even if it is "unhealthy" or "bad" for him. This come from an idea called "self ownership" — something too few people believe in anymore.

Sad, man, sad.

Anonymous said...

In response to what anonymus said about Nazi Germany (btw, a current joke goes: did you know that Nazi Goreng was originally a German dish?), I would add (as a German) that this ghost didnt dissappear from Germany since then!

Mind Eastern Germany, officially dissolved only in 1989, where the "Stasi" (State Security) had a very eleborate network of official and semi-official helpers. At least 10% of the Society surveyed the "rest" of the society, which worked out extremely well for the ruling party. All parallels to Alex' assumptions on Singapore society can be drawn.. and I wouldnt stop there, in fact the comparison ex-eastern Germany and Singapore is a quite interesting one (Alex, here is something to write about!).

Needless to say that in the very moment of East Germanys' end, there was no one to find who would be responsible or executing this system of social surveillance.. quite similar to what happened some decades before... and it happens again, here and there.

History tends to repeat itself.

I have one totally different comment on the theonlinecitizen, I love the term MONETARY DISINCENTIVE (MD?), is it another word for FINE right? I think this fining issue is really ridiculous here.

The last proof that fining doesnt work all that well was the power tripping: last time it happenend, hefty fines were introduced. I asked myself how that would help to strengthen this complex infrastructure, the problem obviously lies much deeper. And again, the tripping happened, obviously unimpressed by the fine...

It is as useful as trying to fine (or sue) the rain for what it did the last two weeks.

Anonymous said...

Good morning Mr Au.

This is one good thing that came out from stomp, or citizen reporting I thought.

Now I am more aware before I rush out to buy something from OG.


Yawning Bread Sampler said...

More specifically, the URL that TC refers to is this:

Mr Wang said...

Hi Alex:

You mentioned the example of the granny who was prosecuted for harbouring illegal immigrants.

I was still a DPP when that case happened, so I know the inside story.

She wasn't as hapless as it appeared in the media. In fact, she had previously been arrested for harbouring illegal immigrants, and the illegal immigrants were all arrested, charged, caned and deported.

But on account of the granny's age, the authorities let her off for the offence of harbouring illegal immigrants (one of my colleagues directed the police to give her a stern warning and drop the case).

She definitely knew all about the relevant laws by then. But a few months, promptly proceeded to commit the same offence again.

Second time round, the decision was made to proceed against her in court. There was still some differing views among the DPPs about whether this was the most appropriate approach (she was about 90 years old and the mandatory minimum sentence is 6 months imprisonment).

I see it as Parliament's stupidity. They should not have imposed a mandatory minimum. Eg if they hadn't, the judge could have had the discretion to impose a much lower sentence that would achieve both justice and mercy.

-- Mr Wang