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October 24, 2006

Singapore's Paisley Passey

Speaking of reasons to blog pseudonymously...

Right now, the most popular search on Technorati is for "Wee Shu Min."

Wee Shu Min is the daughter of a Singaporean MP. She's currently in big trouble for a blistering rant at a commenter who suggested that Singapore's beggar the hindmost economy was unconducive to human flourishing. She wrote, in part:

derek, derek, derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron ricebowl or a solid future if you cannot spell?

if you're not good enough, life will kick you in the balls. that's just how things go. there's no point in lambasting the government for making our society one that is, i quote, "far too survival of fittest". it's the same everywhere. yes discrimination exists, and it is sad, but most of the time if people would prefer hiring other people over you, it's because they're better. it's so sad when people like old derek lament the kind of world that singapore will be if we make it so uncertain. go be friggin communist, if uncertainty of success offends you so much - you will certainly be poor and miserable. unless you are an arm-twisting commie bully, which, given your whiny middle-class undereducated penchant, i doubt.

The incident even got written up in The Straits Times.

Wee has since shut down her blog and apologized, though not to Derek.

Reminds me of of our very own Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey.

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Comments

First, it's the Straits Times. It's not about straight or gay people, but about the Straits of Malacca.

Second, her father's response was classically Orwellian. He said it was a violation of her privacy to repeat what she said (this, mind you, is in a country where oral sex is illegal). And he complained that "Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it" - which means in plain English "Now shut up and go back to working 50-hour weeks for $3 an hour till you're 80, you stupid plebes."

There's nothing wrong with Singapore that a revolution won't fix.

I'd call her father's reaction more dick-headed and reactionary than Orwellian.

I mean, it's not absurd for a father to complain that people made a big deal out of his daughter's offensive but unremarkable rant on the internet because she happens to be the daughter of an MP.

The reason it's funny is because the girl's post wouldn't even raise eyebrows in the Anglo-American pseudo-libertarian blogosphere today.

The fact that the MP shares his daughter's warped values is disturbing, of course. Singapore seems to be a country run by libertarian bloggers.

"unless you are an arm-twisting commie bully"

Irony lives again!

Singapore seems to be a country run by libertarian bloggers.

You mean conservative bloggers. Libertarian bloggers wouldn't tolerate the death penalty, the rampant censorship, and the huge defense spending (Singapore's per capita military spending is second only to Israel's even though it's not at war).

I mean, it's not absurd for a father to complain that people made a big deal out of his daughter's offensive but unremarkable rant on the internet because she happens to be the daughter of an MP.

That's not absurd; saying it's a violation of her privacy is not only absurd, but also hypocritical given Singapore's anti-privacy laws.

I should say "pseudo-libertarian bloggers." There are approximately four real libertarians in the blogosphere, as far as I can tell.

Even people who don't believe in privacy laws often believe in social norms of privacy. I don't like this MP any more than you do, but I think you're holding him to a higher standard than your average American politician.

When political family members get dragged into supposedly partisan fights, the standard response is to appeal to privacy and/or the right to a private life. That rant wouldn't have raised eyebrows in the blogosphere if the young woman's father hadn't been important. Maybe her views are even more mainstream in Singapore than they are here.

When Jenna and Barbara Bush get their pictures taken in nightclubs, you could argue that the paparazzi are violating their privacy, even if you believe that it's acceptable for photographers to take pictures of clubbers. The issue is whether certain people are being singled out for scrutiny because of their connection to a powerful person, rather than because their behavior is especially outrageous in its own right.

It's hard to say if her views are mainstream in Singapore. They're mainstream in the government, but the government's views aren't the same as the public's.

However, even within the government, nobody talks like that. Lee Kuan Yew never calls the poor lazy; he always makes sure to coax his toxic arrows in sugar - for example, by repeating the endless neo-liberal talk of opportunity and initiative and the endless conservative talk of values.

Wee Shu Min (WSM)'s comments are symptomatic of the elitist mindset that many upper class Singaporeans have. Her views are not mainstream in much of Singapore society - it explains why she is receiving so much flak for her comments. The reason why she was berated so badly, could be due to the fact that this came in the wake of an incident which happened last week. A man, one of the working poor in Singapore, committed suicide by jumping off the platform at an MRT (subway)station (http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,115969,00.html). He had a wife who has polio and 2 kids, and all they had in terms of money, was 15 Singapore dollars, which is about 9USD. And it is not as if he was a bum not doing anything; he worked hard, had several (low-paying) jobs and tried to provide the very best for his wife and two kids. Whether he should have jumped or not, that is another matter. The fact is that this incident highlighted the plight of the poor in Singapore, and how the state with their anti-welfarist stance, did not do much to help.

And then shortly after that, we have this 18 year old girl from the upper echelons of society saying this sorts of things. What made it even worse is that her father berated her not for her elitist perspective but rather, her language use. The plight of the poor is something that those at the top will be unable to understand. Just to give you a perspective, the Prime Minister himself earns approximately 2 million SGD annually (http://www.yeocheowtong.com/Salaries.html)
This is opposed to the earnings of the average Singapore which is but a fraction of what those at the top are earning. WSM aroused so much anger precisely because she and her father are symbolic of this state of affair - that of an increasing gap between the poor and the ruling elites. Social inequality has been rising Singapore over the past few years.

Alon Levy is right in saying that the views are mainstream amongst the memebrs of the ruling class. Many of them believe that because Singapore is based on meritocracy, therefore if you screw up, it's mostly your fault. They don't see the fact that cultural and social capital plays a huge role in determining one's chances in life. It's not just about the brains - it's about the opportunities that one has. The ruling party in Singapore has alot more in common with the neocons and their neoliberal economic policies in the US than one might think. If you place the ruling class in Singapore on the political spectrum, they are defintely on the political right.

Btw, I am Singaporean, if you all haven't already figure it out.

For a charming further development in the always engaging story of Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey, see:

http://foreigndispatches.typepad.com/dispatches/2006/08/between_love_an.html

The most narcissistic woman online has caught the eye of the most narcissistic man! Will romance blossom? Perhaps not; it's hard to make love with your face pressed against a mirror. If these two don't quite gel, Lapite can enjoy this consolation: he no doubt continues to appeal to gay men (http://foreigndispatches.typepad.com/dispatches/2005/08/on_gay_recruitm.html).

Singapore: Disneyland with the death penalty. - I wish I could remember who said it.

On the other hand, a nation that forbids chewing gum can't be all bad.

The ruling party in Singapore has alot more in common with the neocons and their neoliberal economic policies in the US than one might think.

Actually, a scary number of Western conservatives view Singapore as a model state. It has a fascist merger of state and business, out of control defense spending, a national propaganda campaign meant to convince the people the country is at war (has the government come up with better slogans than "Making mission impossible possible"?), no freedom of speech, low taxes on the rich... what else can they ask for?

When I lived in Singapore, I wrote about that adoration of the country, "Singapore is the Soviet Union of Western conservatives - they all admire it without knowing a single thing that happens here."

On the other hand, a nation that forbids chewing gum can't be all bad.

Singapore doesn't forbid chewing gum. It only forbids selling it. If you're rich enough to afford traveling to other countries, you can fill your suitcase with packs you bought abroad on the way back and nobody will do anything to you.

If you're going to criticize other people for spelling, you should at least figure out how to work the shift key.

I just like to use shorthand; everyone else can't spell.

No people should be afraid of its government.
The government should be afraid of its people.

Eugene, thanks for mentioning the suicide incident. That helps put things in perspective.

Lindsay Beyerstein said:

"The fact that the MP shares his daughter's warped values is disturbing, of course. Singapore seems to be a country run by libertarian bloggers."

I don't think this is at all correct. Singapore is far too paternalistic, authoritarian and socially conservative to qualify as a libertarian ideal. Consider for example its notoriously harsh drug laws.

Lindsay, you're are most welcome.

The father caught alot of flak even after his supposed "apology" on behalf of his daughter, for he is not apologising for her attitudes and values, but rather for the use of her language. That got many local bloggers slamming him for that. In response, what he has done is to issue a (contrite) apology in the papers today (26 Oct). However, this "apology" is much like the previous one, in that it still does not address the fact that there is something very wrong with his values. Rather he is only saying sorry for his use of strong language against Mr Derek Wee.

Here is a written response to the MP's support of what his daughter has said. It appeared in today's Straits Times (state-owned by the way, though a hot issue such as this cannot be covered up without accusation of overt censorship) by a member of the public. I do disagree with letting the girl off so easily on the basis of an exam, for I think she needs to be taught a lesson. She is already an 18 year old, not an 8 year old child (heck, I know 8 year olds with a hell lot more sense and empathy that this wretched product of Singapore's elitist education system):

I REFER to the report, 'Teen blogger counselled for her 'elitist' remarks' (ST, Oct 24).

I believe Miss Wee Shu Min has drawn enough criticism for her insensitive and offensive remarks. Hopefully, she will learn from this saga and move on.

The public should spare her further personal insults and allow her to concentrate on her exams, bearing in mind that she is just an 18-year-old with a major examination coming up.

What I am dismayed about is how her father, MP Wee Siew Kim, appears to agree with her opinion and sided with her when he said: 'She wrote in a private blog and I feel that her privacy has been violated.'

If Mr Wee feels that his daughter's privacy had been violated, is he implying that the Government was wrong to punish bloggers who posted racist comments on their supposedly 'private' blogs that were viewable by anyone with just a click of a button?

I should think not. One should always be responsible and conscious of his choice of words, be it in an essay or a blog.

In the article, Mr Wee also stated that '(Miss Wee's) basic point is reasonable' and 'some people cannot take the brutal truth'.

I have read Mr Derek Wee's commentary and I feel that he is not the unmotivated or whiny, discontented worker that he was portrayed to be.

Mr Wee was merely airing his fears about how older workers are finding it difficult to cope with today's competitive and practical reality.

At no point did he state that he was dissatisfied with his job and I believe he will 'get on with the challenges in life'.

It seems that Mr Wee Siew Kim endorsed his daughter's 'elitist' remarks and that her only mistake was insensitivity.

The issue at hand is not merely about insensitivity; it also involves values like humility and empathy.

If Mr Wee's only concern for his daughter is about being politically correct, then I am afraid he is missing out on something fundamental.

Hopefully, Miss Wee will learn from this episode about humility and empathy as well.

Yang Sixiang

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