What’s the big deal, some say? It’ll only be used by the police for criminal investigations. Nothing to fuss about if you’re not anywhere near the underworld. Perhaps.
But there’s also POFMA. Remember all the hand-wringing when the PAP told us something had to be done about deliberate online falsehoods?
Post-legislation, the Act was used by the government even to insist that it’s interpretation of statistical data is the true and correct one, leaving the “offending” party to seek redress through the courts if it disputes the state’s assertion – a process that is thoroughly onerous in terms of funds and time.
Then there’s the complete shutdown of space for political dissent – and even for not-so-political actions. Name me one other government that prosecutes a lone activist carrying a placard with Mr Smiley on it.
But like the TT matter, you say, what’s the big deal if you’re not into posting anything that might be remotely of public interest or that you’ll just stay clear of carrying any placards.
But here’s why it matters – and matters to you and your family.
The use of TT other than exclusively for Covid19 matters, the constriction of online space, the throttling of even the most benign of political dissent, the employment of defamation laws, the castigation of academics, just to cite a few examples, cast a long and pernicious shadow on Singaporeans’ psyche.
When people know they are being watched and sanctioned, self-censorship becomes the norm. It becomes baked into society’s culture.
And here’s when it gets really dangerous: We think and behave as if such censorship, whether state- or self-imposed, is not just normal but necessary.
Generations of citizens have been told that without such officially proscribed and prescribed views, we become ungovernable. Such control ensures unity lest society degenerates into disrepair and chaos. Besides, we are Asian and so value community over self – government-speak for the notion that people need to be lorded over.
Through decades of such inculcation, thinking among the people has become limited and stunted. Anyone and everyone who colours outside the lines becomes a subject for censure and punishment.
Let me be clear: For a modern society to function, there must be law and order. But I repeat, the rule of law and the respect for order need not result in the kind of censorship that we have here in Singapore.
The freedom to think and express ourselves, to peacefully assemble and to form associations are not niceties to have. They are rights indelibly written into our Constitution. They are, obviously, not absolute but they may also not be expurgated just because the ruling party finds it politically advantageous to do so.
Not only are these rights constitutionally mandated, they are freedoms crucial to our continued progress as a nation.
The dismal state of our nation today did not come about by accident. It is the result of decades of control imposed by a powerful few within one political party, control that has resulted in our collective mind-rot.
This has produced worryingly deficient outcomes. Whether it is economic performance, mental health, suicide rate, birth rate, emigration rate, outlook of our youths, labour productivity, wage levels – national indicators hardly signal a future of hope and confidence.
On the future of our economy in particular, I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll repeat it here: political rights and economic development occupy two sides of the same coin. You can’t have the latter without the former, especially not at this juncture of our nation’s development given the exponential rise of technology.
With widespread and deep-seated censorship, we cannot compete in the world of innovation where the clash of ideas and challenge of orthodoxies are the norm. Whether it is in commerce, scientific inquiry or the arts, freedom of expression is to progress what flour is to bread. Conformist thinking, on the other hand, is a one-way ticket to irrelevance and obscurity.
Censorship and progress, if it needs to be said, are mortal enemies.
We are on the last legs of an unsustainable, rentier economy propped up by an ossified political system long past its expiry date. No matter how many foreigners we bring in and regardless of the number of them we convert to citizens, with a society and political culture that threatens rather than inspires and stymies rather than motivates, this country is on a gradual but inexorable decline.
When our society was young, we were talked to like children. But as society grows up, we must discard our childish ways of thinking and behave in a manner befitting an intelligent and mature people.
The sooner we realise that this autocratic system robs us of our future, the sooner we can start building a quality life for our nation, our loved ones and ourselves.
If society is going to imagine a vibrant future, if our younger generations are going to be among the leaders of the world, and if our citizens aspire to live fulfilled lives, then we need to embark on the urgent road of reform.
Pushing back against the TT U-turns, the POFMAs, the criminalisation of political action – that is, standing up to the autocrats – are a good and necessary start. But more, much more, needs to be done.
*Facebook post by Dr. Chee Soon Juan.